The Chatter

DOJ Puts Hold on Consent Decree for Baltimore Police Reform

Mayor and police commissioner express their opposition to the extension.

Editor’s note:

[Judge James K. Bredar denied the U.S. Department of Justice motion for a 90-day extension to review the consent decree to reform the Baltimore Police Department.

“The government’s motion is untimely,” Bredar says in a court document filed this afternoon. “To postpone the public hearing at the eleventh hour would be to unduly burden and inconvenience the court, the other parties, and most importantly, the public.”

Mayor Catherine Pugh is pleased with the final ruling from Bredar. “The crucial next step of receiving public input occurs tomorrow,” Pugh said in a statement about the hearing on April 6 at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore. “I hope citizens will take advantage of this opportunity to have their voices heard. The hearing will begin at 9:30 a.m. and last until 5 p.m.; anyone is welcome to speak.

“The City of Baltimore is ready to move forward to rebuild the important relationship which exists between the community and our police department,” Pugh said. “It will take all of us—city government, the police department, and the families and residents of our great city—to see this reform process through.”]

In a motion filed last night, the U.S. Department of Justice asked a federal judge for a 90-day extension in order to review the details of the proposed consent decree for Baltimore police reform.

“We strongly oppose any delay in moving forward,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement. “I, along with Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and the citizens of Baltimore, recognize that reforming our police department is long overdue.”

The consent decree—which was signed in the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency—was an agreement reached between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the city after a federal agency investigated the patterns of discriminatory and unlawful practices of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). The investigation uncovered that police officers routinely violated the rights of Baltimore’s residents in predominantly poor and black areas.

“I’m disappointed that the Department of Justice thought it necessary to seek a 90-day extension,” said Commissioner Kevin Davis in a press conference this morning. “I don’t think it’s necessary; we know that a consent decree will make the BPD better both with the crime fight and community relationships.”

The motion filed Monday cites President Trump’s executive order, which instructs the government “to prioritize crime reduction.” It also states that the DOJ is “committed to working to ensure that the BPD can carry out its mission of fostering trust with community members, safeguarding life and property, and promoting public safety through enforcing the law in a fair and impartial manner.”

At a hearing back in February, the DOJ lawyers appeared to be in full support of the consent decree and committed to moving it forward, but the requested extension could be a roadblock to that progress.

Along with the motion, the DOJ filed a memorandum from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to top agency officials in which he calls for a thorough review of all agency activities to ensure they are adhering to specific policies set by the administration. One policy in particular states that local accountability is responsible for effective policing and that it is not the federal government’s responsibility to manage local enforcement agencies.

“Much has been done to begin the process of building faith between the police department and the community it seeks to serve,” says Pugh. “Any interruption in moving forward may have the effect of eroding the trust that we are working hard to establish.”

Judge James K. Bredar has not yet ruled on the extension, however Commissioner Davis is adamant that the reforms will take place irrespective of the ruling.

“I want to say to the community in particular, that the police department is absolutely dedicated to the consent decree process,” Davis says. “From my mouth to your ears, I want this consent decree and I know mayor Pugh does as well. It will make our city better.”