- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2017

A federal judge on Friday approved a proposed consent decree to reform the Baltimore Police Department — sidelining the Trump administration’s Justice Department, which had sought to delay court approval of an agreement brokered by the prior administration.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar denied a Justice Department request to hold off signing the agreement while new leadership reviewed the proposal, which was negotiated by the Obama administration.

The DOJ had this week requested to delay a Thursday court hearing on the proposal, saying it needed to review the proposed consent decree in light of new guidance issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Late Monday, the attorney general announced sweeping review of DOJ interactions with local law enforcement to include the court-enforceable consent decrees used to overhaul troubled police departments.

Mr. Sessions blasted the judge’s approval of the agreement, saying negotiations were rushed in the waning days of the Obama administration.

“While the Department of Justice continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore, I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city,” he said in a statement released Friday.

Citing rising crime statistics in the city, including last year’s 22 percent increase in violent crime, Mr. Sessions said that arrests in the city had fallen by 45 percent “based on some of these ill-advised reforms.”

Judge Bredar wrote in his eight-page order that the proposed decree was “fair, adequate, and reasonable” and that its approval was in the public interest.

“The case is no longer in a phase where any party is unilaterally entitled to reconsider the terms of the settlement; the parties are bound to each other by their prior agreement,” the judge wrote. “The time for negotiating the agreement is over.”

Both Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis have pledged support for the agreement.

The DOJ undertook a review of policing practices in Baltimore after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who died from injuries to his neck and spine after he was arrested and placed in the back of a police van. Its report found that officers unconstitutionally stopped and searched residents, disproportionately targeted black residents and frequently resorted to physical force during interactions that didn’t warrant it.

Consent decrees became a hallmark of the Obama administration’s Justice Department, with the Baltimore agreement finalized just days before President Trump was sworn into office. The Justice Department opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies since 2009. At the time Baltimore’s agreement was inked, the DOJ was enforcing 15 such consent decrees.

Mr. Sessions has expressed skepticism of the practice of using consent decrees to change police department practices.

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