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Darcy Costello

Baltimore Sun

January 16, 2024

The Baltimore Police Department has achieved full and effective compliance with two sections of the city’s policing consent decree with the federal government, city and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys agree.

The two filed a joint motion Tuesday asking the federal judge overseeing the city’s progress to agree that the police department is in compliance around transportation of persons in custody and officer assistance and support. The two sections were part of the lengthy policing consent decree agreed to in 2017 to remedy unconstitutional policing practices identified by the Justice Department in a sweeping investigation the year prior.

In its Tuesday filing, the Justice Department called the step an “important milestone for the city and BPD,” as it’s the first time the agency has reached compliance with a portion of the decree.

A press conference with the mayor, city solicitor and police commissioner to discuss the progress is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday.

If the judge agrees that the department is in compliance, the city and DOJ will “move towards the goal of sustained compliance” with a system of self-assessment, and begin to direct their attention to remaining objectives, according to the city’s court filing.

As BPD reaches sustained compliance on sections of the consent decree, those objectives will be removed from federal oversight. The city can petition to remove that oversight after 12 months of full compliance, so oversight of transportation of persons in custody and officer assistance and support could be removed as early as December 2024.

“Over the past seven years, the City and BPD have made substantial progress towards meeting all of the Consent Decree’s objectives,” city attorneys wrote. “That this progress has occurred while achieving the City’s recent and historic reduction in violent crimes proves that constitutional policing and public safety is not an either-or proposition. Instead, as the Parties have maintained throughout this process, when done right, the two go hand-in-hand.”

The transportation of persons in custody section of the consent decree is a significant accomplishment for the police department, given the connection between the required reforms and the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who died following injuries he suffered while being transported by police. Though he is not mentioned by name in the consent decree, the filing said, “the significance of his death and the uprising that followed is undeniably linked to BPD’s efforts at reform.”

The DOJ investigation found BPD officers knew or heard about so-called “rough rides,” in which officers purposely drove erratically while transporting a detainee, as a form of retaliation. The investigation also identified a failure to ensure officers consistently secured detainees, a lack of data on injuries, and a lack of audit system and essential equipment.

Reforms around transportation of individuals included new policies and training on safeguarding persons in custody, better equipment and an audit mechanism. “Spot checks” at police districts have since found appropriate safety equipment, the city’s filing said.

The monitor team’s December assessment found nearly all of BPD’s vehicles were in compliance with new equipment, that video footage from within vehicles was being retained and that supervisors had a proper response to policy violations identified by the department. It also found high compliance scores for transports where the individual required a wheelchair or other medical device, as well as ones where the individuals needed to be transported separately due to age, sex or gender identity.

Over the 17-month period reviewed by the monitor team, there were just 11 reported injuries over 16,000 transports, the DOJ’s filling noted.

The other section that could achieve full compliance surrounds officer assistance and support.

Baltimore Police, according to the Justice Department investigation, didn’t adequately support officers, including following traumatic events. At the time, it had no centralized system of assessing officer wellbeing or coordinated support services.

In response, the consent decree called for the agency to offer low-cost counseling and mental wellness services, peer support and voluntary mental health evaluations. It also required protocols for officer wellbeing during civil unrest or public demonstrations.

Now, BPD’s Officer Safety and Wellness Section provides support and guidance sessions to police, and the department has a partnership with an employee assistance provider to offer wellness and mental health services. In 2021, according to the DOJ’s filing, more than 30% of officers used the new services.

A quarterly public hearing on the consent decree is scheduled for Jan. 25.

The consent decree also includes sections on stops, searches and arrestsuse of force; misconduct investigations and discipline; community policing; crisis intervention and behavioral health; interactions with youth; and supervision.

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