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Budget already tight, Baltimore expected to spend tens of millions on Justice Department plan

Justice Department's required reforms of Baltimore police might cost $5 million to $10 million a year.

Baltimore officials expect to make painful cuts as they seek the tens of millions of dollars needed to pay for police reforms required by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The cash-strapped city is expected to spend $5 million to $10 million annually on equipment, technology, training and other expenditures, officials say, as part of the forthcoming terms of an agreement to overhaul the department.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young was among those thinking about how to find the money Thursday, following the release this week of the Justice Department's scathing reports on its 14-month civil rights investigation.

"It is going to be difficult," said Lester Davis, Young's spokesman, saying the budget cuts would involve "some real sacrifices."

"But you can't put a price tag on reform," Davis said.

The department and city have reached an agreement in principle to develop a court-enforceable consent decree that will be designed to address problems uncovered by the lengthy investigation, such as use of excessive force and discriminatory searches and arrests.

Young expects the agreement to save the city money in the long term. Reforms should lead to better police operations and fewer lawsuits alleging brutality against citizens, Davis said.

Actual expenses will not be known until a consent decree is drawn up.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she is prepared to make "the tough decisions" to find money in the city's $2.6 billion budget. Her administration was forced to close a $60 million deficit before approving this year's budget.

The Police Department is budgeted to spend $480 million in the current fiscal year, representing 18 percent of the city's operating budget.

Much of the cost to implement the changes will be up to the next mayor.

The city and Justice Department are expected to complete negotiations on the consent decree by Nov. 1. Rawlings-Blake leaves office in December.

New Orleans has spent about $26 million, or about $6.5 million a year, since the city entered into a consent decree with the Justice Department in 2013.

Jamie Gorelick, a Washington-based partner with the firm WilmerHale, said police spending following a federal consent decree can increase up to $10 million a year at first, but the changes the spending pays for can lead to substantial future savings.

"A well-trained police force should be less costly on any number of grounds," said Gorelick, a former deputy U.S. attorney general.

The city paid WilmerHale to assist staff attorneys with the Justice Department probe.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, the Democratic nominee for mayor, said she would pay for needed improvements to the Police Department by setting priorities. In heavily Democratic Baltimore, she is favored to win the general election.

"This is going to be a priority for us as a city, but we'll also be looking to the philanthropic community, the state and our federal partners for assistance," she said. "Everybody knows that Baltimore is in a tight budget situation.

"Everybody has to be all in."

Alan Walden, the Republican nominee for mayor, said more information is needed before any decisions could be made about spending priorities.

The Green Party nominee, Joshua Harris, said the city is "wasting millions of dollars." Payouts on lawsuits involving alleged brutality and future tax incentives for the proposed Port Covington development are examples, he said.

"We could begin by being more fiscally responsible," said Harris, emphasizing that the cuts should not come from education or the city's recreation and parks budgets.

It is unclear how much the state or federal government may contribute.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that he had not yet seen the Justice Department report and was not sure how much any required changes might cost.

"We're going to take a close look at it, and we're going to see if we can provide any assistance," Hogan said.

Hogan has confidence in Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and the changes he has begun to make to the department, said Hannah Marr, a spokeswoman for the governor.

"The administration will continue to support and work with city leadership and the Baltimore Police Department as they begin to address and make progress on these issues," Marr said in a statement Thursday. "Ultimately, this a long process that is just beginning."

Davis said the department will look for grants, but typically local jurisdictions have been responsible for reforms required by the Justice Department under similar circumstances.

"Generally, when the Department of Justice comes in under a consent decree, they're not coming in with a checkbook," Davis said.

Davis was a high-ranking official on the Prince George's County police force when the Justice Department required that county to comply to the terms of a consent decree in 2004. It took four and a half years to satisfy the requirements, Davis said.

City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, a member of the budget committee, said she wants the Police Department to look toward community partnerships and area nonprofits to help implement the required changes.

"The Police Department needs to step up to the plate and start helping to find other funding sources outside of government," she said. "That will show that they are sincere about building those partnerships in the community. This is part of holding them accountable.

"It's not just the dollar signs — it's about them rebuilding the trust."

Rawlings-Blake said she anticipates that steps the city has taken during the Justice Department investigation will help decrease the time and money it takes to meet the terms of the consent decree.

For example, Baltimore police have added new training standards, retrofitted prisoner transport vans and given officers body cameras.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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