Police Commissioner Kevin Davis summoned the media to police headquarters today to say he is disappointed by the news that the U.S. Justice Department is seeking to pause and “review” the police reform consent decree – and to make clear that his agency had no hand in it.
“There were no backroom deals, no sleight of hand,” Davis said. “I want this consent decree.”
“We know we have to get better. We know that over many many years, things have occurred here that prevent the Baltimore Police Department from being the best that it can be,” he said, referring later specifically to “the culture of zero tolerance policing.”
“It’s a punch in the gut to the community, certainly to me, and to the men and women of this police department,” he said.
Davis was reacting to a motion filed yesterday in U.S. District Court that cited President Donald J. Trump’s February 9 executive order directing the government “to prioritize crime reduction.”
The motion asks Judge James K. Bredar to pause the consent decree process for 90 days.
“The department has determined that permitting it more time to examine the consent decree proposed in this case in light of these initiatives will help ensure that the best result is achieved for the people of the City,” says the motion, which Bredar has yet to rule on.
The news broke just as the parties were about to hold a final public hearing on the consent decree on Thursday.
Ensures Timeline, Funding
Davis said his department has already made changes in response to the scathing 2016 report detailing the Justice Department’s finding that Baltimore police engaged in a pattern and practice of discriminatory and unconstitutional policing.
Among the changes he cited: revised policies for use of force and for taser deployment, new technology such as body body cameras and training enhancement including doubling the mandatory training hours from 40 hours, as required by the state, to 80 hours.
“The reforms are going to take place whether the consent decree goes forward or not,” Davis said.
Why, then, he was asked, is the decree needed?
“It binds the commissioner, whoever that might be – and right now it’s me – it binds the mayor. . . to getting those reforms enacted under a timeline that’s not necessarily our own,” Davis said.
“A federal judge . . . makes sure that there are no other distractions that [result in us] kicking that can down the road.”
Davis said the consent decree can ensure that future fiscal decisions don’t undermine the process: “There are reforms that cost money and require budgetary commitment.”
Reacting to the news last night, Mayor Catherine Pugh released a statement joining Davis in opposing delay.
“Much has been done to begin the process of building faith between the police department and the community it seeks to serve,” Pugh said. “Any interruption in moving forward may have the effect of eroding the trust that we are working hard to establish.”
Administration Orders Broad DOJ Review
Outside city government, reaction to the Justice Department motion was less measured.
The ACLU of Maryland called the DOJ decision a slap in the face to the people of Baltimore” and “a gross abdication of the DOJ’s responsibility to ensure that police in Baltimore, and around the country, act within the bounds of law.”
The DOJ’s filing in Baltimore was disclosed on the same day the public learned of an order, by new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that all of the Department’s activities are coming under a sweeping review.
Vanita Gupta, who ran the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama and negotiated the Baltimore consent decree, told the New York Times it was “unclear” whether Sessions could withdraw from that agreement.
Outside of Baltimore, the Trump Administration’s memo is drawing some of the most pressing concern in Chicago, where a DOJ report issued late in the Obama Administration found failures in the department after a series of police shootings of minorities.
Speaking for the ACLU of Maryland, David Rocah said that, in halting the csent decree, the Trump Administration is sending a “disturbing” signal.
“The DOJ motion suggests that there is some fundamental incompatibility between addressing longstanding patterns of police misconduct and public safety,” he said. “This view is not only wrong but dangerous.”