Baltimore leaders want reform, say agreement is crucial

AP News
Posted: Apr 04, 2017 4:08 PM
Baltimore leaders want reform, say agreement is crucial

BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner say they want to transform law enforcement in a city that became emblematic of police abuses, excessive force and callous treatment of young black men.

But after the Justice Department signaled it may abandon its efforts to help that reform, city officials fear they will be left with little money or political backing to repair the fractured relationship between police and citizens.

On Tuesday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he has already implemented some reforms outlined in a proposed agreement with the federal government, including updating the department's use-of-force policy, outfitting officers with body-worn cameras and doubling the hours of mandatory training.

But Davis said the department needs the court's mandate to ensure continued funding for reform efforts so officers can get the training, equipment and resources they need to improve.

"There's no backroom deals. There's no sleight of hand. I am telling you: I want this consent decree. It will make the city better, and it'll make our relationships with the community better," Davis said.

Newly minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated on Monday that his Justice Department will review existing consent decrees in order to determine whether they would hamper efforts to combat violence crime.

The Justice Department asked the judge overseeing Baltimore's consent decree to postpone a hearing scheduled for Thursday for 90 days. Davis and Mayor Catherine Pugh were quick to say they oppose the request, and are anxious to move forward.

"It's a punch in the gut to the community, certainly to me, and to the men and women of this police department," Davis said.

Gene Ryan, the president of the Baltimore police union, did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday.

They mayor said the city has set aside some money for improvements, and while it's "not nearly enough," it's "enough to get things moving."

The proposed consent decree in Baltimore comes after the Justice Department released a scathing report last year detailing longstanding patterns racial profiling and excessive force within the city's police force. The review was prompted by the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken in the back of a transport wagon, and whose death roiled the city.

Since Gray's death, the homicide rate in Baltimore has continued to rise, and the city has struggled to rid the police department of corruption. Recently, seven officers were accused of turning off their body cameras, making unlawful arrests and robbing citizens of cash and jewelry. At a news conference announcing the charges, Davis called the indictments "part of the messy business of reform."

Davis spent 20 years with the Prince George's County Police Department, which signed on to a consent decree in 2004. Five years later, the department was released from the agreement after implementing significant reforms that included installing video recorders in police cars and improving its system of reviewing police shootings.

The Justice Department opened an investigation into that department in 1999, after several people were attacked by police dogs. The following year, the Justice Department expanded its investigation to include broader allegations of excessive force.

Davis said without the consent decree, the Baltimore Police Department wouldn't be able to accomplish necessary reforms "at the pace we need to achieve," he said.

"The reforms are coming, no matter what," he said. "But the reforms that cost money, require budgetary commitments, require technology commitments, require training commitments, they are the things that consent decrees really mandate. They hold our feet to the fire and they don't expire when Kevin Davis is no longer the commissioner. They live on over time."