BALTIMORE – A U.S. judge has approved an agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice to overhaul the Baltimore police department.
U.S. District Judge James Bredar signed the agreement on Friday, one day after a public hearing to solicit comments from city residents.
Bredar called the plan “comprehensive, detailed and precise,” and wrote in the order that it “is in the public interest” to approve it.
Bredar earlier this week denied a request from the Justice Department to postpone Thursday’s public hearing, and on Friday denied a second request to delay signing off on the agreement to give new leadership time to review it. The Justice Department has indicated that it intends to review all existing consent decrees to determine whether they will hinder efforts to fight violence crime.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Friday that the agreement, negotiated under his predecessor, shows “clear departures from many proven principals of good policing that we fear will result in more crime.”
“The decree was negotiated during a rushed process by the previous administration and signed only days before they left office,” Sessions said. “While the Department of Justice 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.”
In Friday’s order, Bredar wrote that he wouldn’t grant the Justice Department more time to review the plan because the agency and city officials had already agreed on it.
“During the public hearing on April 6 the Government explicitly asked for more time to consider the proposed decree,” Bredar wrote. “But this is problematic. The parties have already agreed to the draft before the Court. It would be extraordinary for the Court to permit one side to unilaterally amend an agreement already jointly reached and signed.”
Baltimore officials and the Justice Department announced the agreement in January, during the last days of the Obama Administration. The agreement is the culmination of an investigation into allegations of rampant abuses in the police department that include excessive force, unlawful stops and discriminatory practices. The Justice Department issued a scathing report detailing such misconduct last year. The agency launched its investigation weeks after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken in the back of a police transport van. Gray’s death prompted protests and rioting throughout the city.
City officials, including Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, have voiced their support for the agreement. Davis has also emphasized the importance of community policing and rebuilding trust with city residents as crucial tools in the fight against violent crime. A plan that prioritizes constitutional practices, he said, will make the crime fight more efficient, and more effective.
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