- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Justice Department is set to announce Thursday the details of a consent decree with the city of Baltimore for reforming the city’s police department.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch will travel to Baltimore to announce the details alongside Mayor Catherine Pugh and police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

A Justice Department review completed in August found that Baltimore Police officers unconstitutionally stopped and searched residents, disproportionately targeted black residents, and frequently resorted to physical force during interactions that didn’t warrant it — actions that undermined trust between the department and the community.

The review, undertaken after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, concluded that the Baltimore Police Department engaged in a pattern of conduct that violated city residents’ constitutional and federal rights.

The 25-year-old Gray died in April 2015 after his neck was broken as he rode inside the back of a police van. Six police officers were charged in connection with Gray’s arrest and death, but none was convicted.

City officials will have to sign off on the consent decree; similar agreements are described as having cost other cities between $5 million and $10 million annually to enforce. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division currently is overseeing 14 consent decrees with police agencies, and has opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies since 2009.

Consent decrees negotiated under the Obama administration are expected to remain in place and be enforced under the next attorney general. But President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has expressed skepticism over the use of consent decrees in the past, raising concerns among civil rights advocates that he might seek to do away with or renegotiate such agreements.

During questioning Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering his nomination, Mr. Sessions said a consent decree “is not necessarily a bad thing.” But the Alabama Republican said that, if confirmed as attorney general, he “wouldn’t commit there would never be any changes” in decrees negotiated under a previous administration.

“If departments have compiled or have reached other developments that could justify the withdrawal or modification of the consent decree, I would do that,” he said.

During the hearing, Mr. Sessions expressed concern over the stigma that a consent decree can have on a police department, saying it can negatively affect morale among officers.

“It’s a difficult thing for a city to be sued by the Department of Justice and to be told your police department is systematically failing to serve the people of the city,” he said.

The Justice Department’s report on Baltimore police practices found that officers often lacked reasonable suspicion to stop community members, with less than 4 percent of pedestrian stops resulting in an arrest or issuance of a citation.

It also found that black residents were disproportionately targeted for stops, accounting for 84 percent of stops while they represent 63 percent of the city’s population, and accounting for 95 percent of the 410 people stopped at least 10 times by police.

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