- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2015

Rep. Elijah Cummings wants the Department of Justice to provide clarity on when Baltimore police officers can and cannot exercise their arrest powers when responding to emergency calls and the various crimes that sprout up across the city.

The Maryland Democrat is seeking to reassure police officers who patrol the streets of Baltimore that they can make arrests without fear of legal backlash, a concern that has been raised among cops after six officers were charged after 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested and died a week later.

Baltimore’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby in early May leveled criminal charges against Officer Caesar Goodson, Officer Garrett Miller, Officer Edward Nero, Officer William Porter, Lt. Brian Rice and Sgt. Alicia White in early May for the roles they played during the arrest, leaving their comrades feeling uncertain about when they should be making arrests.

In light of those concerns, Mr. Cummings has been meeting with local cops and their police union this week and noted during an interview with WBAL-TV that he had contacted the department to ease their minds.

Mr. Cummings did not reach out directly to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for that clarification, said Trudy Perkins, spokeswoman for the congressman. Instead, he made an informal inquiry to Justice Department officials via email, she told The Washington Times. Ms. Perkins did not say when Mr. Cummings initiated the communication.

“The request was made through legislative affairs. We are awaiting a response,” she told The Times.

Mr. Gray was critically injured while in police custody on April 12 and died from those injuries on April 19, which sparked protests and riots in Baltimore. Following his death, the van driver responsible for transporting Mr. Gray from the arrest site to the police station was charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers were charged with manslaughter, while the remaining two officers received lesser charges.

The quest for clarity on police arrest authority comes just as Department of Justice officials have begun meeting with the Baltimore community to gather facts for its civil rights investigation into the Baltimore Police Department. Officials addressed the community for the first time Thursday evening.

Timothy Mygatt, an attorney for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, told the crowd of about 200 people who gathered at the University of Baltimore School of Law that he and other officials would be collecting data and conducting research in an effort to discover whether police has a “pattern or practice” of using excessive force, conducting illegal stops or participating in discriminatory policing.

“We’re going to go out to all 10 districts in the police department,” he said. “We’re going to go on ride-alongs with the police officers. We’re going to get to know the neighborhoods.”

The Justice Department’s investigation could take up to 18 months, he said. Previous investigations of small police departments have taken six to seven months to complete, he said. However, the 3,000-member Baltimore Police Department is one of the largest police departments in the nation.

Over the past year, Justice Department investigations have uncovered a pattern of civil rights violations by the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri and identified a trend of excessive force actions among officers in Ohio’s Cleveland Police Department.

Each investigation has been different, said Vanita Gupta, who leads the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

Ms. Gupta urged the crowd on Thursday to exercise patience because the fact-gathering process would be time-consuming.

Policing issues have cropped up in various states, but each set of issues is unique and requires a thorough investigation, she said.

“A lot of communities and police departments around the country are struggling with the same issues that Baltimore is struggling with,” Ms. Gupta said. “Baltimore is not alone.”

The civil unrest that rocked the city in April has not only prompted a federal investigation but caused cops to scale back on self-initiated policing and resort to self-preservation tactics, a pair of police officers told CNN during a June 10 interview.

“The whole police department has shifted all to a reactive side,” one officer said condition of anonymity. “You know, the — you — you have no more initiated stops per se.”

Police are taught to exercise reasonable suspicion when they are patrolling the communities in their district. If a cop spots an individual with a bulge in his or her waistband, which may indicate that that the person is in possession of a gun, then the cop may stop that person for questioning, the officer said. But that self-initiated policing effort is becoming less and less common in the aftermath of Mr. Gray’s death, the officer said.

“I can tell you this, and — and it’s the truth. Nine out of 10 times, that officer is going to keep on driving,” the officer said.



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