Baltimore and U.S. Justice Department Reach Agreement on Police Reforms


After five months of negotiation, Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice have agreed to the terms of a consent decree mandating reform of the city police department, both sides said Wednesday. The agreement is expected to be approved by top city officials at a special meeting Thursday.

It also must be approved by a U.S. District Court judge before becoming binding. It has not been made public.

“We’re going to get it done,” Mayor Catherine Pugh told reporters Wednesday. Aides said she and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch would jointly announce the agreement at City Hall at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, after the meeting of the Board of Estimates.

Lynch is scheduled to give a speech on “community policing” in Baltimore Thursday afternoon at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and to meet with community groups and law enforcement officials.

The Baltimore consent decree is expected to mandate changes to a range of policing policies, tactics and operations – including how officers conduct street enforcement, respond to sexual assault complaints, and interact with youths, protesters and those with mental illnesses.

It is also expected to require the police department to introduce new layers of oversight for officers, new methods of tracking misconduct and other data, new training, and major investments in modern technologies — including mobile computers in patrol vehicles — to streamline operations and enhance data retention and analysis.

Pugh has said the agreement will call for civilians to serve on police trial boards that assess officer wrongdoing, but police union officials say the decree cannot supercede the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city, which bars civilian participation.

The mayor controls three of the five votes on the Board of Estimates. Interim City Solicitor David Ralph and Department of Public Works Director Rudy Chow, both of whom work for Pugh, sit on the board. City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt are also on the panel.

The board must approve all major city expenditures. In accepting the agreement, city officials will be pledging to spend the money necessary to carry it out — expected to be tens of millions of dollars.

Members of the public will be allowed to comment at the meeting.

The agreement comes little more than a week before the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump on Jan. 20, which Justice Department officials and city leaders had set as a deadline for the deal. They have expressed concern that Trump and his pick for U.S. Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions, would not support the agreement.

During a day-long confirmation hearing Tuesday, Sessions expressed skepticism over the use of consent decrees to address civil rights abuses by police, but declined to speak specifically on the Baltimore agreement.

“I think there is concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department that have done wrong,” Sessions said. “These lawsuits undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness, and we need to be careful before we do that.”

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Source: Baltimore Sun | Kevin Rector, Luke Broadwater