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Community groups write to DOJ demanding greater voice in Baltimore consent decree process

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis speak during an interview with Baltimore Sun reporters at City Hall, reacting to the Dept. of Justice's 163-page report detailing law enforcement's continued violation of constitutional rights, unlawful stops and excessive force.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis speak during an interview with Baltimore Sun reporters at City Hall, reacting to the Dept. of Justice's 163-page report detailing law enforcement's continued violation of constitutional rights, unlawful stops and excessive force. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

A coalition of community groups in Baltimore is calling for greater transparency and community input in reforming the Baltimore Police Department, issuing a list of recommendations to U.S. Department of Justice officials working toward a consent decree with city officials.

The Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs — which claims 30 organizations as members, including the ACLU of Maryland and local NAACP chapters — wrote in a letter to the federal agency that it does not believe true reform will take place "until the current systems of accountability allow for and encourage robust civilian participation and oversight" of the police department.

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"No individual or collective body can measure the extent to which Baltimore's policing systems have been reformed better than our city's residents themselves," the group wrote in a letter to Timothy Mygatt, deputy chief of the Justice Department's special litigation section.

The Justice Department recently released a scathing report that found the Baltimore Police Department engaged in discriminatory and unconstitutional policing practices -- particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods -- on a daily basis. Officials with the Justice Department and the city are currently engaged in reform negotiations.

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The two sides are expected to reach an agreement, or consent decree, governing which reforms will have to be implemented in coming months. They are then expected to choose a monitor to oversee the reforms.

In its letter to Mygatt, the coalition called for public hearings and forums where potential monitors "present their qualifications" so that community members can provide input to the Justice Department and city officials before one is selected. It asked that the selected monitor "be required to contract with community based groups to regularly solicit community feedback through structured interviews about police citizen contacts" throughout the process.

The coalition also asked that the Justice Department and the city "agree to a public comment period and a public hearing" before the consent decree is approved.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the coalition's demands; Mygatt did not respond to a request for comment.

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The Justice Department has already solicited public input on the process at multiple forums, and has stated publicly that it intends to incorporate that input into its negotiations with the city. Still, some community organizations have expressed concern that the Justice Department will not require reforms that they believe are necessary, such as civilian participation on discipline boards for police officers accused of wrongdoing.

The existing agreement between the Justice Department and the city says the parties "intend to have completed negotiations" on the consent decree by Nov. 1.

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