DOJ Announces Reforms for Baltimore Police Department
On Thursday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch–a week or so before she leaves her post–announced reforms for the Baltimore Police Department, agreed to by the city and the DOJ. The reforms include increased community oversight, and improved recruitment and training policies. In a statement, Lynch said the reforms will help “ensure effective and constitutional policing, restore the community’s trust in law enforcement, and advance public and officer safety.”
The consent decree follows a Department of Justice report on policing in Baltimore that was released last August, the culmination of a year-long investigation spurred by the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. The report, which was based on data from 2010 to 2016, found that the Baltimore Police Department has “systemic deficiencies” in training, and policies that “failed to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively.” There was widespread racial bias in the department, the report found; police officers were also found to have used excessive force.
Lynch also said that a pending investigation into the Chicago Police Department will be released shortly, perhaps as early as Friday. According to a Chicago Tribune report, the Justice Department found that Chicago police violated the U.S. Constitution with some of their practices. The Chicago investigation began in December 2015, after a video was released that showed a Chicago police officer shooting and killing a black teenager, Laquan McDonald.
“Change is painful. Growth is painful. But nothing is as painful as being stuck in a place that we do not belong,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said at the time of the DOJ report. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department has investigated 25 law enforcement agencies across the country; 14 ended in consent decrees.
These reforms come during a transitional period for the Justice Department. President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, has raised concerns that the Justice Department will shield police departments rather than investigate possible reforms. During his two-day confirmation hearing that concluded on Wednesday, Sessions was prodded about how he would enforce consent decrees, and if he would pursue the issue of police reform as attorney general.
“I think there is concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department that have done wrong,” Sessions said. “These lawsuits undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness, and we need to be careful before we do that.”