Amid Its Own State of Chaos, U.S. Justice Department Expected to Talk Police Reform in Baltimore

Officials from Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice are due in federal court Wednesday morning to answer questions about their recent agreement over radical reforms to the city’s troubled police department.Officials from Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice are due in federal court Wednesday morning to answer questions about their recent agreement over radical reforms to the city’s troubled police department.

The scheduled hearing comes amid significant confusion and an internal shakeup at the federal agency itself, where President Donald Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday and Senate Democrats delayed a vote on Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee to fill the position, on Tuesday.

The hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore was already delayed once after Justice Department officials asked on Jan. 20 – the day of Trump’s inauguration – for “additional time in order to brief the new leadership of the Department” on the provisions of the Baltimore deal.

Now, it is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, a half-hour before the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to reconvene in Washington to vote on the Sessions nomination.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the hearing in Baltimore.

Mayor Catherine Pugh and Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis have both said they are eager to implement reforms.

The Justice Department last summer determined the Baltimore Police Department routinely violated the constitutional rights of local residents, particularly in predominantly poor, black neighborhoods; used excessive force; mistreated protesters, youths and those with mental disabilities; and dismissed sexual assault complaints improperly, among other failings. The consent decree, filed jointly by the Justice Department and the city as a proposed settlement, calls for sweeping changes to how officers engage with individuals on the street, exercise their authority and receive training.

The Justice Department and the city reached a deal on reforms last month, after months of negotiations. The deal must be approved by the court if it is to become binding.

U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar asked both parties to come to the hearing prepared to discuss the cost of the consent decree, when and how they expect it to be implemented, what role they see the public playing in its rollout, and how it relates to the local police union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city and established legal precedent on policing, among other issues.

The hearing could shine new light on how the Justice Department and the city expect to proceed with implementing the consent decree. Bredar has specifically requested they provide a timeline of key benchmarks and deadlines for progress. He also asked that Pugh personally appear in court to address the city’s ability to implement the agreement – particularly given the lack of information on the ultimate cost of the reforms.

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Source: Baltimore Sun | Kevin Rector