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Baltimore, Justice Department begin search for consent decree monitor, setting June 8 deadline for applications

Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday began their formal search for a monitor to oversee sweeping reforms to city policing mandated by a court-ordered consent decree.

The request for applications from prospective monitoring teams marked the first step in the process since a federal judge approved the consent decree earlier this month.

It came the same day the city began accepting applications from local residents to fill a five-person civilian oversight panel also mandated by the deal.

The 16-page document outlining the requirements for the monitor noted the initial three-year contract would be worth no more than $1.475 million per year, and set a deadline for submissions of June 8. Applications to serve on the civilian panel are due May 22.

The consent decree stems from an investigation of the Baltimore Police Department by the Justice Department, which issued a scathing report last summer that found city officers engaged in widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing, particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, who is overseeing the case, will select the monitoring team in consultation with the city and the Justice Department after a period of public comment on the applicants' proposals. Mayor Catherine Pugh will pick the members of the Civilian Oversight Task Force.

Once selected by Bredar, the monitoring team will have 90 days to provide a "monitoring plan" to the parties and the court.

Pugh said Thursday the city already has received interest from prospective monitoring teams from New York to Los Angeles, and is excited to move forward.

"The independent monitor is really important to this process, because this is the person who will oversee this whole process," Pugh said. "They are the linchpin to the consent decree and the entire oversight process."

She said selection of the civilian oversight panel would be "a transparent and open process because we need the community's input to make true reforms to our Police Department and to build a strong working relationship between the community and the department."

The Justice Department, which has expressed concerns about the Obama-era consent decree since the Trump administration came to power, declined to comment on the request for applications or what it wants to see in a monitoring team.

The team will consist of a "head monitor and team of individuals with relevant expertise," the request says. It will be independent from the city, its Police Department and the Justice Department, and will report to Bredar.

The team will monitor how and whether the city and the Police Department are complying with the decree, and will assist the parties in achieving compliance "by offering technical assistance, issuing recommendations, soliciting information from and providing information to members of the public, and preparing reports on the Consent Decree's implementation," the request for applications said.

All proposals from applicants will be posted online for public review and comment, according to the request for applications. The city and the Justice Department will pick finalists to go before Bredar by late August, and a public hearing will be held in Baltimore. Questions from the public also will be put to the finalists.

Applicants will be "responsible for all costs associated with responding" to the request, "including costs related to any travel required during the selection process," the request for applications said.

The Justice Department first came to investigate Baltimore police at the request of the city after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody in 2015 led to widespread protests and rioting on the day of his funeral.

After its report was issued, the Justice Department — then under the Obama administration — and the city negotiated the consent decree, signing it just prior to the presidential transition.

Since then, the Justice Department under the Trump administration has expressed skepticism about the process, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had "grave concerns" the deal will make Baltimore less safe.

Bredar, however, approved the deal and entered it as an order of the court April 7, mandating its provisions be implemented.

The consent decree calls for new limits on when and how officers can engage criminal suspects on the street, and orders more training and supervision for officers. It emphasizes the need for training on de-escalation tactics, improving police interactions with youths, those with mental illness and protesters, and improving how officers handle sexual assault claims.

It also requires investments in new technology and equipment, and for enhanced civilian oversight of the Police Department.

The request for applications outlines a range of qualifications that prospective monitoring teams should have, including auditing experience, knowledge of law enforcement practices and policies and the law, and "local experience and expertise with Baltimore's diverse communities, and issues and challenges facing those communities."

Prospective monitors must demonstrate their ability to perform the work in a cost-effective manner, the request states.

The role of the separate civilian oversight panel will be to review the current methods of holding the Police Department accountable to the public. That will include a review of the existing Civilian Review Board, which is charged with reviewing complaints alleging excessive force, abusive language, harassment, false arrest and false imprisonment by officers.

krector@baltsun.com

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