BALTIMORE, Jan. 12 (UPI) — The city of Baltimore and the Department of Justice announced a joint agreement Thursday to reform the city’s police department after a year-long investigation found institutional racial bias and abuse of power by officers.
The agreement, known as a consent decree, was announced by Attorney General Loretta Lynch. It will enable the Justice Department to help implement new training programs and greater oversight, a process that will be guided and enforced by the federal courts.
“The reforms in this consent decree will help ensure effective and constitutional policing, restore the community’s trust in law enforcement, and advance public and officer safety,” Lynch said at a press conference in Baltimore to announce the agreement.
The effort comes after a damning 163-page report, published by the U.S. Department of Justice, showed Baltimore police routinely targeted black residents for unwarranted stops and searches based on their race and where they lived. The report stated 44 percent of police stops in 2016 were centered in two predominantly black inner-city neighborhoods.
The Baltimore Police Department came under intense scrutiny after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was arrested for allegedly possessing an illegal switchblade. Gray died in police custody, while riding in a police transport van, and his family alleged officers were at fault. An autopsy showed he suffered a fatal spinal cord injury. The department at the time acknowledged Gray suffered a “medical emergency” and officers failed to get him the appropriate care. Six officers were suspended and eventually charged with various crimes related to his death. One officer was charged with second-degree murder, but the case ended in a mistrial. Two others were acquitted, and charges against the remaining three officers were eventually dropped.
Gray’s death and the police response led to weeks of peaceful protests, but also several days of riots and looting. Eventually Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called in the Maryland National Guard to restore order.
The incident sparked the beginning of the nationwide Black Lives Matter protest movement.
In the wake of the 2016 Justice Department report, city officials vowed to improve relations between the black community and police. Speaking of Thursday’s consent agreement, Mayor Catherine Pugh told the Baltimore Sun, “we’re going to get it done.”
An independent monitor will be put in place to report publicly to a federal judge in Maryland District Court on the implementation of new policing standards. Officers will receive additional training and equipment meant to reduce the number of confrontations with civilians. Officers will be trained in de-escalation tactics meant to reduce the number of hostile interactions with residents and the overall number of arrests. Additionally, officers will receive specific training in how to avoid the number of juveniles arrested or detained.
The agreement also contains requirements for the department to create new layers of oversight and better track and report instances of officer misconduct. Pugh told the Sun the agreement includes allowing civilians to sit on police trial boards that investigate alleged misconduct, though it is unclear whether that measure can be implemented because the police union’s contract expressly forbids civilian oversight on disciplinary boards.
The cost of implementing the changes is expected to run in the tens of millions, the Sun reported, and will be paid for almost entirely by the city itself, not the federal government.
The city’s five-member Board of Estimates, which must approve all taxpayer expenditures, is expected to ratify the agreement at a special meeting Thursday.