Pugh sets goal of completing DOJ police agreement before Trump takes office

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said Tuesday she has set a goal of completing negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice over reforming the Baltimore Police Department before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

Pugh said city lawyers are working "as quickly as possible" to come to an agreement with federal officials. She said the negotiations include body cameras and diversity training. Pugh said she wants to avoid being ordered to perform expensive services that merely duplicate existing police programs.

"We are moving rather rapidly," she said. "I am accelerating that process."

Since Trump's victory, activists in Baltimore have worried that his administration will be less interested in cracking down on police misconduct than the administration of President Barack Obama. They have been advocating that Pugh sign a binding legal agreement with Obama's Justice Department before Trump becomes president.

Pugh said Tuesday that that was her goal.

"I sat in on our negotiations, and I can tell you they're going well. ...," Pugh said. "Our goal is to get it done before the next administration takes over."

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said last week that she hopes Baltimore officials and the Department of Justice will agree to a binding consent decree on police reform before Obama leaves office next month, but that reaching a deal is now up to the city.

"At this point, the ball's in the city's court," Lynch said.

The Justice Department has been negotiating with city attorneys since August, when it released a scathing, 163-page report that described Baltimore police engaging in a pattern of violations of residents' rights, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the public safety committee, sent a letter to Pugh saying it would be "irresponsible" for the city to not reach an agreement with the Justice Department before the end of Obama's tenure.

He said Trump's nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, to replace Lynch as attorney general "threatens to end any hope for true reform through the consent decree."

Scott said the need for police reforms in Baltimore — including "training and policy reform, increased departmental transparency, civilian oversight, community policing along with technology and officer support investment" — became "crystal clear" after the unrest in 2015 following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

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