Why the DOJ believes its report on Baltimore Police will be different from all the others

Why the DOJ report on Baltimore Police is different from all the other reports

The new report that concludes the Baltimore Police Department has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional, unjustified policing that has disproportionately affected black residents is not the first to lay out systemic problems in the department.

Former Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, who was fired shortly after the U.S. Department of Justice review began last year, had his own plan for reforms. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents officers, has a plan, too. Activists, nonprofits, law enforcement think tanks and politicians also have weighed in over the years. And each new police commissioner in the city's long list of commissioners in recent decades has arrived with a strategy all his own.

But the DOJ report is different, and will have a far greater impact, for two reasons, according to Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, which conducted the investigation.

First, it will be court enforced. Second, it will unfold over the course of many years — holding the city to certain standards and reform priorities that will not shift each time a new mayor is elected or a new commissioner takes the helm of the nation's eighth largest police force.

"There hasn't been before an investigation or a report that has delved into hundreds of thousands of pages of documents where we had access to the kind of information that we had," Gupta said. "We will be producing an agreement that will be court enforceable by a third party monitor that is going to be a long term set of reforms."

She predicted the report will lead to "what is needed to produce sustainable culture change in a police department."

Gupta added: "What's important is that the findings in any agreement that we reach are meant to survive the political winds, the personnel changes, not only at BPD and the city but also at the Justice Department."

The Justice Department will now enter into negotiations with the police department and other city officials. Gupta said she is "optimistic" those talks will result in a consent decree, shaping the department's reform priorities. The city will then seek out a court-appointed monitor, under the supervision of a federal judge, to ensure that those priorities are met.

The negotiations ahead of the consent decree will include input from citizens, but also from members of the law enforcement community, Gupta said.

"We aren't saying that the Baltimore Police Department shouldn't be engaging in proactive policing.... But we are saying that proactive policing has to be done in partnership with the community," Gupta said.

"These communities need policing. They want fair policing. And we say it's not just about the absence of crime, it has to be the presence of justice, too. And where communities have the trust of police, they are going to be sharing information and being partners in fighting crime and creating safety in their neighborhoods...

"There isn't a dichotomy between effective policing and constitutional policing," she said. "Those things actually go hand in hand."

krector@baltsun.com

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