Federal Judge Approves Consent Decree To Overhaul Baltimore Police

Apr 7, 2017

A federal judge has approved a court-enforceable consent decree to institute reforms in Baltimore's troubled police department, over the objections of the Trump administration.

The decree was negotiated in the final weeks of former President Barack Obama's administration. As we reported this January, it "calls for an independent federal monitor to observe the department, as well as a community oversight task force," and "instructs police to use de-escalation tactics before resorting to violence and calls for police to be instructed on implicit bias and victim-centered practices for handling sexual assault cases," among other things.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had expressed "grave concerns" that some provisions would "reduce the lawful powers of the police department."

"This decree was negotiated during a rushed process by the previous administration and signed only days before they left office," he said. The Department of Justice sought more time to review the agreement.

U.S. District Judge James Bredar denied that request. He called the agreement "comprehensive, detailed and precise," and said the problems that it addresses are "urgent."

The decree was negotiated after a long civil rights investigation into Baltimore police conduct, following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray. The Department of Justice, under Obama, issued a report describing excessive force, routine violations of citizens' constitutional rights and pervasive racial bias.

"Time is of the essence," Bredar said, as he announced he had approved the decree over the objections of the new Department of Justice.

The Associated Press reports:

"The Justice Department can appeal the judge's decision, but it would have to show the judge made an error or abused his discretion.

"That would be difficult to prove, said Jonathan Smith, a civil rights attorney in the Obama Justice Department who oversaw negotiations with troubled police departments.

"Justice Department lawyers also could try to modify the consent decree, but the burden is high, requiring them to show there has been a substantial change in the facts or the law, Smith said."

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