Baltimore, US to announce details of police reform decree
BALTIMORE (AP) — The city of Baltimore and the U.S. Justice Department have reached agreement on a consent decree that will require the city to reform its police department.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a joint news conference to describe the details of the decree at City Hall on Thursday morning, after a city spending board meets to approve the deal. A federal judge also must approve it to make it binding.
The projected cost has not been announced, but the previous mayor said it could be $30 million.
The Justice Department opened a formal investigation of the department’s patterns and practices after the death in police custody of a 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray. Six police officers were charged but none were convicted in the arrest and death of Gray, whose neck was severed inside a police van.
The agreement, finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration, is intended to remain in effect under a new attorney general. Civil rights advocates have expressed concern that Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee, may not pursue allegations of police misconduct with the same vigor.
The Justice Department opened similar investigations into about two dozen local law enforcement agencies under President Barack Obama, including Ferguson, Missouri; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Cleveland.
In Chicago, where a white officer was videotaped fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, a Justice Department report to be released Friday will conclude that police officers have a pattern and practice of violating people’s rights, according to an official familiar with the findings. That official spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, lacking authorization to speak publicly about it.
In Baltimore, one of the largest departments to come under such scrutiny, the Justice Department concluded in August that officers routinely used excessive force, discriminated against African-Americans and made unlawful arrests. It found that officers stop large numbers of people — mostly in poor, black neighborhoods — with dubious justification, and unlawfully arrest citizens merely for speaking in ways police deem disrespectful.
The report also said that physical force was often used unnecessarily, against juveniles, the mentally disabled and civilians who aren’t dangerous or pose an immediate threat. Force is often used as a retaliatory tactic in instances where officers “did not like what those individuals said,” the report concluded.
It also identified serious training deficiencies, accusing the department of “systemic failures” that violated the Constitution and the rights of citizens.
The federal investigation found that blacks accounted for 95 percent of the people stopped at least 10 times by Baltimore police, and roughly 84 percent of all pedestrian stops, between 2010 and 2015. Some individual black residents were stopped 30 times or more.
The details have not been made public, but the agreement will likely mandate reforms to the way officers handle sexual assault complaints and respond to juveniles and individuals suffering from mental illness. The agreement also will likely outline new requirements for training officers and ensuring oversight.
The police department has already equipped officers in the field with body cameras to improve transparency and accountability, which Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said should help improve a fractured relationship with the citizens of Baltimore.
Davis also said officers are now required to undergo 80 hours of in-service training — twice the time required by the state — and that new technology will ensure that officers receive, review and understand rules and policies.
Eric Tucker contributed reporting from Washington and Michael Tarm from Chicago.