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Baltimore Police Announce Reformed Use of Force Policies

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison recently announced policies to amend officers’ use of force.

As part of the city’s consent decree with the federal government, the department’s new policies meet the guidelines the Department of Justice put in place. The reforms outline a plan that emphasizes training and de-escalation.

The new rules went into effect Sunday.

In addition to de-escalation tactics, the plan also delves into use of force investigations, firearm training and emergency vehicle operation and pursuit. The reforms are the result of a consent decree the city met with the Department of Justice in 2017 when an investigation into Baltimore’s policing practices revealed officers routinely violated the civil rights of residents and especially people of color.

“We worked collaboratively with the department of justice and the monitoring team to ensure our policies and training on use of force embrace national best practices,” Harrison said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The Baltimore Police Department has been a target in many protests against police brutality in recent years. The 2015 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a Black man who died of a spinal cord injury in police custody, sparked often-violent protests throughout the city. In 2014, the Baltimore Sun revealed the city had paid about $5.7 million between 2011 and 2014 to people who were mostly Black who claimed officers had beaten them.

In July, a Fourth Circuit Court ruled that Baltimore could not offer police brutality settlement agreements that had gag orders attached. The issue was evidenced by a 2012 case when a woman accused officers of beating her in her own home after she reported a burglary. After she spoke to the press about the incident, the department found her in violation of the non-disparagement clause and withheld half of her money.

The revised rules also were developed through feedback from officers and the public, who advised that force should only be used when necessary, reasonable and proportionate to a suspect’s actions.

Harrison said officers completed training in-class and online and that the officers would receive more training next year. The 16 hours of in-class education focused on de-escalation, decision-making and unbiased policing. In addition to more training in 2020, the department also will include de-escalation as part of its regular in-service training, Harrison said.

There also is an emphasis on accountability and compliance. Danny Murphy, the deputy commissioner of the compliance bureau, said at the press conference that the department now has a use of force assessment unit, which will look into the uses of force on all levels of severity.

“It’s critical for us to monitor the implementation of these policies on a regular basis, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Murphy said.

The team also will assess body camera footage alongside reports.

“When people ask about where we are with the consent decree, this is a major milestone that we have now implemented these suite of policies and have moved forward and completed the training for the entire department on use of force, which is a major issue in the consent decree,” Harrison said.

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