Federal Judge Approves Baltimore Police Consent Decree, Rejects DOJ Request for Delay

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A consent decree with the City of Baltimore was negotiated after a DOJ investigation found that city officers were engaging in discriminatory police tactics. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A federal judge signed off on the proposed consent decree between Baltimore and the U.S. Justice Department on Friday, April 7, requiring the city to make exhaustive reforms to its embattled police department.

In approving the order, District Judge James K. Bredar rejected the DOJ’s request to delay the agreement’s approval for at least 30 days so the new Trump administration would have time to review the deal, The Baltimore Sun reported. The decree was reached in the waning days of the Obama administration following a scathing DOJ report citing discriminatory and unlawful police tactics targeting residents in low-income, African-American communities.

“The time for negotiating the agreement is over,” Judge Bredar wrote in his opinion. “The only question now is whether the court needs more time to consider the proposed decree. It does not.”

The order will take effect immediately, with the judge giving the parties two weeks to agree on a timeline to implement the deal.

Bredar’s approval comes just a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the Justice Department to assess all federal agreements calling for police reforms. In the past, Sessions has voiced skepticism about the effectiveness of consent decrees, leaving civil rights backers worried his latest directive could shift focus away from necessary reforms in law enforcement agencies known for less-than-perfect policing.

The attorney general on Friday said that while he supported police reforms, he still had “grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less-safe city.”

The recently approved agreement calls for significant new restrictions on officers, including limits on when and how they’re allowed to engage individuals suspected of criminal activity, The Baltimore Sun reported. Additional training for police on de-escalation strategies and interactions with youths, mentally disabled persons and protesters also is required.

Moreover, the deal mandates more officer supervision, requires the city to invest in better technology and equipment, and calls on the police department to improve civilian oversight and transparency with the implementation of a community task force, according to the newspaper.

Mayor Catherine Pugh called Bredar’s approval of the consent decree “a great victory for the citizens of Baltimore, as well as our police department.

In a statement, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis echoed Pugh’s’ sentiments, saying he was satisfied with the judge’s ruling, which would “support and, in fact, accelerate many needed reforms in the areas of training, technology and internal accountability systems.

“We expect that this process will lead us to the goal we all share — a Baltimore Police Department that leads the progress of the policing profession,” Davis said.

Sessions wasn’t as enthused, however, contending that the consent decree was “negotiated during a rushed process by the previous administration” at a time when the Monument City was faced with “a violent crime crisis.”

“The mayor and police chief in Baltimore say they are committed to better policing and that there should be no delay to review this decree — but there are clear departures from many proven principles of good policing that we fear will result in more crime,” Sessions said. “The citizens of Baltimore deserve to see a real and lasting reduction in the fast-rising violent crime threatening their city.”

The DOJ has the power to appeal the judge’s order, legal observers said, but only on certain grounds, like arguing the judge made a mistake in his ruling. In the meantime, a federal monitor must be appointed to oversee implementation of the consent decree, according to The Baltimore Sun. That person would report to Bredar.

City officials said they expect implementation to be rolled out over the next several years, costing the city tens of millions of dollars.

“The problems that necessitate this consent decree are urgent,” Bredar wrote. “The parties have agreed on a detailed and reasonable approach to solving them. Now, it is time to enter the decree and thereby require all involved to get to work on repairing the many fractures so poignantly revealed by the record.”

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