Published: Thu, April 06, 2017
Research | By Francis Brooks

Baltimore officials to judge: Don't delay police overhaul

Baltimore officials to judge: Don't delay police overhaul

The Trump administration's decision to review federal agreements with troubled police departments nationwide could imperil ongoing reform efforts, particularly in Baltimore and Chicago, civil rights advocates said on Tuesday, even as city officials vowed to continue pursuing improvements.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' memorandum ordering the review endangers one of the key legacies of former President Barack Obama, whose Department of Justice reached more than a dozen agreements with police departments over constitutional abuses.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the independent watchdog New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, said a massive paper trail is necessary for the courts to determine if police departments are complying with a consent decree's terms.

Pushing back the hearing at the last minute would be a "burden and inconvenience to the court, other parties, and most importantly, the public", the judge said.

While local officials said Tuesday that an examination of North Charleston's police force remains on track, it's unclear whether a new U.S. Department of Justice mandate will affect the reform effort.

The head of St. Louis' NAACP chapter, Adolphus Pruitt, said any Justice Department review should include communities that were investigated, but didn't enter into a consent decree.

"The primary goal of this hearing is to hear from the public; it would be especially inappropriate to grant this late request for a delay when it would be the public who were most adversely affected by a postponement", he wrote.

I think that, you know, this is why the federal, you know, it's like, well, who do you go to?

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The federal government alone can not successfully address rising crimes rates, secure public safety, protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public, or implement best practices in policing.

"There's no question that some of these consent decrees are arduous and complicated, but they will (force cities to) provide the kind of resources the department very often needs", said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, whose study of consent decrees found them costly but useful in helping departments deal with broad image and performance issues. "It will take all of us - City government, the police department, and the families and residents of our great City - to see this reform process through".

But after the Justice Department signaled it may abandon its efforts to help that reform, city officials fear they will be left with little money or political backing to fix the fractured relationship between police and citizens.

The city's police commissioner said Baltimore will launch the process with or without the federal government's guidance.

Dozens of law enforcement agencies are now legally bound to implement reforms according to the court-enforced agreements, known as consent decrees. Davis and Mayor Catherine Pugh were quick to say they oppose the request, and are anxious to move forward.

A separate Justice Department report declined to press federal charges on officer Wilson, saying that Brown was moving toward Wilson when he was shot. "It will make us better, make the city better, and make our relationship with the community better".

Pruitt also said that any review could further delay full implementation of Ferguson's consent decree. "Somehow, some way, we undermined the respect for our police and made, oftentimes, their job more hard", he said, indicating an intent to back off.

"It's that type of investigative tool that, for whatever reason or for many reasons, Baltimore has chosen over the years not to invest in that technology", Davis said.

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