Baltimore asks U.S. Justice Dept to review police practices

Reuters News
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Posted: May 06, 2015 10:40 AM

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - Baltimore officials asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate its police department for civil rights violations after the death of a black man from injuries sustained in police custody, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said on Wednesday.

The review will look into police practices such as frisks, street stops of suspects, arrests and searches to see if they violate the U.S. Constitution, Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference.

The request follows the death last month of Freddie Gray, 25, who died of spinal injuries after being arrested by police. His death sparked protests and a day of arson and looting in the largely black city of about 620,000 people. Six officers were charged last week in Gray's death in a case that is the latest in a series of deaths of unarmed black men involving police officers across the United States.

"We cannot be timid in addressing this problem and I am a mayor that does not shy away from our city's big challenges," Rawlings-Blake said.

She said the city would seek to have its 3,200-strong department equipped with body cameras by the end of the year. Cameras are seen by advocates as a way to monitor police encounters with civilians.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch is considering Rawlings-Blake's request, the Justice Department said in a statement. Lynch met the mayor, police officials and community leaders in Baltimore on Tuesday.

Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat who took office in 2010, said the request to the Justice Department was part of her years-long effort to reform the police force.

She said the department had made progress, with complaints last year of excessive force down by 46 percent and those for discourtesy off by more than half. But advances had not gone far enough, Rawlings-Blake said.

The Justice Department has carried out similar reviews of U.S. police departments. A high-profile review of police in Ferguson, Missouri, where an officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager last year, concluded in March that the department routinely engaged in racially biased practices.

The Justice Department is investigating possible civil rights violations after Gray's death.

The Justice Department also is reviewing police at Baltimore officials' request. The request came in October 2014 shortly after the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported the city had paid almost $6 million since 2011 to settle more than 100 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Susan Heavey and Bill Trott)