A federal judge approved a proposed Obama administration consent decree to overhaul the Baltimore Police Department, ignoring requests from the Trump Justice Department to delay court approval for at least 90 days for review by new leadership.
U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar approved the agreement Friday, denying the Justice Department’s request to hold off the signing of the agreement that was negotiated during the Obama administration.
Just before the department filed the motion to postpone the hearing regarding the Baltimore consent decree, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed Justice officials to review all consent decrees reached under the Obama administration to make sure they aligned with the new administration’s focus on protecting police and improving officer morale.
“This decree was negotiated during a rushed process by the previous administration and signed only days before they left office,” said Sessions in a statement released after the judge’s approval of the consent decree.
The consent decree calls for significant new restrictions on officers, limiting when and how they can engage individuals suspected of criminal activity and requiring more supervision for officers. It orders more training for police on de-escalation tactics and interactions with youths, protesters and those with mental illnesses.
Under the deal, the city is also required to invest in better technology and equipment, and for the police department to enhance civilian oversight and transparency.
“While the [Justice Department] continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore, I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city,” Sessions said.
Though he does not cite a specific reform, he called some of them “ill-advised” and “clear departures from many proven principals of good policing” that he feared would result in more crime in the city, citing statistics that show a drop in arrests and increase in violent crime in the city.
The order is effective immediately, and Bredar gave the parties two weeks to deliver a timeline for implementing the deal.
Though the Baltimore agreement was finalized, other agreements in earlier stages have questionable futures under the new attorney general, including Chicago where the Justice Department cited unconstitutional police practices such as using excessive force and shooting at fleeing suspects who posed no immediate threat.
Under Obama, the Justice Department opened roughly two dozen investigations of police departments, and 14 of them ended in consent decrees including Ferguson, Mo., Miami, Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M., and Newark, N.J.
It launched its investigation of Baltimore following the death April 2015 of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a black man who sustained fatal injuries during a jolting ride in a police van while handcuffed and without a seatbelt. Its report revealing widespread mistreatment of African-Americans, including unlawful stops and use of excessive force.
“Usually it’s the defendants who try to back out at the last minute, but to the have the DOJ, the plaintiff, second-guessing itself was completely unprecedented,” said former Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General Chiraag Bains during a congressional forum examining civil rights under the Trump administration last week.
He said consent decrees were necessary to address systemic policing issues and to correct patterns of policing violations that may be driven by unclear policies, poor training or broken accountability systems.
“We’re not talking about the federal takeover of police departments, we’re talking about the enforcement and protection of constitutional rights,” Bains said. “This is a federal matter.
Ron Davis, former DOJ Director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services who also attended the forum, said consent decrees have been effective in tackling police reform and are an effective tool to make sure a city provided needed resources to its police.
“When a consent decree is drawn, I think sometimes people see it as an attack on a police officer. That’s not necessarily the case,” Davis said.