Baltimore residents wanted it—particularly those whose communities for too long have been ravaged by police misconduct and brutality. City council members wanted it. The mayor and police commissioner wanted it, too.
But like a misguided paternalist, Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to delay approval of a consent decree between the Justice Department and the city to bring badly needed reforms to the Baltimore Police Department. Claiming the decree would make the city less safe, Sessions’ efforts were akin to the lame I know what’s good for you better than you do argument. Sessions lost that battle.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar approved the city’s consent decree, giving both sides two weeks to deliver a timeline to start implementing police department reforms, The Baltimore Sun reported. Earlier, Bredar had rejected a last-minute Justice Department request to delay public hearings on the decree, handing Sessions his first of two losses this week.
“The time for negotiating the agreement is over,” Bredar wrote in his ruling, according to the newspaper. “The only question now is whether the Court needs more time to consider the proposed decree. It does not.”
That means Baltimore can now move forward with substantial investment in better police training, implementation of significant limits on how police officers can engage individuals, and mandatory supervision of officers, among other steps.
The consent decree followed a series of high–profile incidents in recent years, including the 2015 homicide of 25–year–old Freddie Gray while in police custody, and a scathing Justice Department report last year that outlined in shocking detail the scope and frequency of constitutional violations committed by police, who overwhelmingly targeted the city’s African American residents and communities.
Bredar said he was convinced the consent decree is necessary after reviewing the Justice Department investigation. Perhaps Sessions should read it, too.
Mayor Catherine Pugh called the ruling “a great victory for the citizens of Baltimore as well as our Police Department.”
According to The New York Times, the 227–page consent decree, agreed upon last January, requires officers undergo 80 hours of training, including how to follow the law when stopping, searching, and arresting people. It also would put video cameras inside police vans.
Most importantly, it calls for the creation of a Community Oversight Task Force within 90 days to review the police department and recommend changes. The effectiveness of that task force—and reforms in general—will largely depend on continued community involvement in the process, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle member Lawrence Grandpre told the Sun.
It can be one of two roads—one where it becomes a very technical, abstract process that’s disconnected from community, and one where there’s a real focus on community empowerment and this is a tool to larger, more structural police reform. Obviously we are going to do everything we can to push it down the road that more accurately reflects the idea of being accountable to community.