- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2017

Department of Justice and Baltimore officials announced Thursday that they have reached an agreement on a consent decree that will reform the city’s police department, in part by setting policy guidelines to prohibit unlawful stops and arrests and unnecessary use of force, and to ensure stops are constitutional and sexual assaults are properly investigated.

Officials said the court-enforceable agreement will provide new avenues for community oversight and will ensure that the Baltimore Police Department engages in effective and constitutional practices.

The agreement was reached a week before Donald Trump is sworn in as president and a new administration takes charge of the Justice Department, but outgoing Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said the reforms “will live on” regardless of who is in charge.

“The reforms in this consent decree will help ensure effective and constitutional policing, restore the community’s trust in law enforcement and advance public and officer safety,” Ms. Lynch said in Baltimore.

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

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

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

The consent decree discourages arrests for quality-of-life offenses, requiring a supervisor to sign off on any request to take someone into custody for a minor infraction, and mandates basic training for making stops and searches, The Associated Press reported.

In addition, it commands officers to use de-escalation techniques, thoroughly investigate sexual assault claims and send specially trained units to distress calls involving people with mental illness.

The agreement also lays out policies for transporting prisoners, a likely acknowledgment of the death of Gray, AP reported. The consent decree requires officers to ensure that prisoners are protected with seat belts and to check on them periodically to make sure they are safe.

A federal judge will have to approve the terms of the consent decree, and an independent monitor will have to be selected to oversee the reforms. But first, Ms. Lynch said, residents will be given an opportunity to weigh in on the conditions of the agreement.

“We want that community input because it is a continuation of community input we’ve had throughout this process,” she said.

Enforcement of consent decrees negotiated in other cities has cost $5 million to $10 million annually.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she doesn’t know what it will cost to implement the reforms but she is committed to seeing them through.

“I’m not interested right now in what that price tag is. I am more interested that we get the reforms, tools, mechanisms and process in place,” Ms. Pugh said.

The Baltimore police union released a statement saying its officials had not received an advance copy of the 227-page agreement and did not have a response.

“Despite continued assurances by representatives of the Department of Justice that our organization would be included in the consent degree negotiations, no request to participate was ever forthcoming and we were not involved in the process,” the union officials said.

Ms. Pugh said she would like to get the union back to the table to be part of negotiations.

Consent decrees negotiated under the Obama administration are expected to remain in place and be enforced under the next attorney general.

Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has expressed skepticism of consent decrees in the past, raising concern among civil rights advocates that he might seek to eliminate or renegotiate such agreements.

During questioning Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 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 previous administrations.

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