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Baltimore approves proposed reform of city police

By Juliet Linderman Associated Press

BALTIMORE – The city of Baltimore approved an agreement Thursday with the U.S. Justice Department to reform its police department following the death of a young black man who was fatally injured while in the custody of officers.

The city’s five-member Board of Estimates voted unanimously in favor of the agreement, which was developed after a Justice Department review exposed systemic failures in the department, resulting in the use of excessive force, racial discrimination and illegal arrests by police.

Democratic City Council President Jack Young, a member of the board, said there will be a hearing to allow for public comment on the agreement before it’s approved by a federal judge.

Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh said the document would be posted online later Thursday morning for the public to review. She and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch were to appear at a midmorning news conference to discuss the deal.

It is the result of months of negotiations over how best to repair deep problems with the city’s policing, which for years has violated the civil rights of some of Baltimore’s most vulnerable residents.

The decree is likely to require remedies for civil rights failures described in a Justice Department report last August that found officers were routinely stopping large numbers of people in poor, black neighborhoods for dubious reasons, and unlawfully arresting residents merely for speaking out in ways police deemed disrespectful.

The report also said physical force was often used unnecessarily, against juveniles, the mentally disabled and civilians who weren’t dangerous or posing an immediate threat. It concluded that force was often used as a retaliatory tactic against people who spoke out.

It also identified serious training deficiencies and “systemic failures” that violated the Constitution and the rights of citizens.

The federal investigation found that African-Americans accounted for 95 percent of the people stopped at least 10 times by Baltimore police, and roughly 84 percent of all pedestrian stops, between 2010 and 2015. Some individual black residents were stopped 30 times or more.

The investigation followed the death of a 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died in 2015 a week after his neck was broken in the back of a police van.

The Justice Department is bracing for a massive shift if U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee, becomes attorney general.

The agreement, finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration, is intended to remain in effect under the next administration, but advocates expressed concerns at Sessions’ confirmation hearing Wednesday that he won’t pursue allegations of police misconduct with the same vigor.

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