Baltimore reaches agreement with DOJ over police reforms - mayor's office

Baltimore reaches agreement with DOJ over police reforms - mayor's office
Baltimore and the US Department of Justice have reached a deal on a consent decree to reform the city's police department after it was found to have systemic issues involving use of excessive force and civil rights abuses.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch will announce the deal on Thursday morning following a meeting of the city spending board. Later Thursday, Lynch is also scheduled to speak about "community policing" at the University of Baltimore School of Law, according to reports.

The city is "very very close" to finalizing a deal with the Department of Justice (DOJ), said Pugh, according to the Baltimore Sun. "We're going to get it done."

Negotiations between city officials and the DOJ "are done," Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Pugh, told AP. "The final document has gone to the principals" to be signed, he added.

Details of the agreement have not been made public. The deal must receive ultimate approval from a US District Court judge.

The city's Board of Estimates is scheduled to meet on Thursday to approve city spending for the deal. The agreement "will be funded through the City's and [Baltimore Police Department's] annual budgeting and appropriations," according to an agenda for the meeting posted online.

The consent decree followed a 163-page report released in August by the DOJ regarding the procedures and practices of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). The report was the product of a 14-month investigation triggered by the death of Freddie Gray while in custody of the BPD in 2015. Gray's death spurred riots across the city, while all six BPD officers involved in his arrest were charged but none were convicted of a crime.

The report contained dozens of disturbing anecdotes of excessive force, illegal police practices and discriminatory conduct disproportionately aimed at poor and black city residents. In the five and half years of data examined, African-Americans accounted for 95 percent of the 410 people the BPD stopped at least 10 times, the DOJ found, adding that sexual assault reports were ignored and protester rights were routinely violated, among other acts of misconduct.

The BPD engaged in more than 60 illegal, pre-arrest strip searches over a six-year period, the report found, including such searches conducted on public streets.

Most of the officers mentioned in the report were not punished for incidents recorded in the DOJ report, and when the public complained about the department’s illegal practices and misconduct they only received a reprimand.

Rather than sue the city, the DOJ entered into negotiations with Baltimore in order to reach an agreement that would demand the BPD "delivers services in a manner that respects the rights of residents, increases trust between officers and the communities they serve, and promotes public and officer safety."

The mandated reforms in the agreement will likely demand new BPD practices for handling sexual assault complaints as well as revamped procedures in police encounters with juveniles and those with mental illness, AP reported.

The agreement will only go into effect once it is approved by a US District Court judge, who is required to assess the deal's fairness and overall public good.  If approved, the court and a federal monitor will be charged with oversight of the deal, implementation of which is expected to cost the city tens of millions of dollars.