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Crime & Justiceby Fern Shen2:08 pmAug 10, 20160

Mayor discusses federal probe of police that she initially resisted

Justice Department vows to “reach out” to community, as it negotiates consent decree

Above: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake addresses media after a scathing report by the U.S. Department of Justice on the Baltimore Police Department. (Reuters)

Last year, with the city under National Guard curfew, parts of Baltimore still smouldering, and Freddie Gray recently buried following his fatal injury in police custody, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was adamant:

She didn’t want federal oversight of Baltimore’s police department.

“Nobody wants the Department of Justice to come in here and take over our city,” Rawlings-Blake had said.

Today, the Mayor faced the media to discuss the devastating 163-page report resulting from the federal investigation she finally did request – the following week.

“When it was clear we needed to do more I asked for a patterns and practices investigation,” she said   this morning, speaking from City Hall.

With her were officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ), City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and other members of the City Council and city officials.

The results of that investigation were “challenging to hear,” Rawlings-Blake said, but create a “crucial foundation” for reform.

Asked who was responsible for the deep and systematic problems uncovered by the federal probe, Rawlings-Blake answered, essentially, “not me.”

“They are systemic. And by the nature of your question – a system is not an individual,” she said to the reporter. “That being said, I am responsible – for ushering in the meaningful reforms that have taken place thus far. And I’m certainly committed to making the meaningful reforms moving forward.”


Rawlings-Blake said the city and DOJ officials have reached an “agreement in principle” to hammer out a consent decree prescribing steps toward reform – steps she said, judging by the experience of other cities, likely to cost $5 million to $10 million annually.

She and other officials did not say how many years the agreement may be in place.

Zero Tolerance, Caustic Damage

Vanita Gupta, head of the US DOJ Civil Rights Division, thanked Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis “for their leadership and cooperation” during the course of the 15-month investigation, and then went on to characterize the findings in the report.

Gupta said BPD engages in a pattern or practice of:

Making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests;
• Using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches, and arrests of African Americans;
• Using excessive force;
• Retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression.

Gupta said the problems developed over many years and result from “long-standing, systemic deficiencies at BPD.”

• The agency fails to provide officers with sufficient policy guidance and training;
• Fails to collect and analyze data regarding officers’ activities;
• Fails to hold officers accountable for misconduct;
• And fails to provide officers with the necessary equipment and resources they need to police safely, constitutionally, and effectively.

Those deficiencies “deeply eroded the mutual trust between BPD and the community it serves, trust that is essential to effective policing, as well as officer and public safety,” Gupta said.

One factor, Gupta observed, is that many in the department still follow the “zero tolerance” policies of the past, despite what’s known about their “limited impact on solving crime and their caustic damage to community relationships.”

The DOJ found that only 3.7 percent of the police department’s more than 300,000 pedestrian stops – from January 2010 to May 2015 – resulted in officers issuing a citation or making an arrest, Gupta said.

“Many of those stops and the resulting frisks lacked constitutional justification,” she said, “And many of the discretionary arrests were simply street-clearing activities.”

Davis: “Very Concerned”

Commissioner Davis also addressed the media, pledging to work with federal officials to bring about reform.

“Those who choose to wear this uniform and choose to blatantly disregard a person’s rights should be uncomfortable, because we are not going to tolerate it,” he said.

“It’s your actions that are fostering fear and resentment in our communities and making it extremely difficult for the vast majority of honorable men and women who serve in our noble profession,” he said.

Anticipating reporters’ efforts to determine some sense of personal responsibility or involvement in the agency’s problems, Davis asked himself a question – “Were you surprised by the findings?” – and answered it:

“I’m very, very concerned by some of the information contained in the report,” he said.

Davis called the preliminary agreement reached by the city and the DOJ “a road map to reform,” and pledged to “continue” to work for change.

Next Steps

Gupta called the agreement in principle “a framework,” saying “in the coming months” it would be used to negotiate the consent decree.

“We will be meeting with and reaching out to community members and law enforcement to hear their ideas, your ideas, about what kind of police department you want,” she said. “We urge you to remain engaged.”

“Police reform won’t happen overnight or by chance,” Gupta said. “It’s going to take time, and it’s going to require a focused and sustained effort.”

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