Mayor Catherine E. Pugh affirmed her support Wednesday for ongoing negotiations between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice to lock in police reforms. But the new mayor said she does not want Baltimore to be forced to pay twice for changes already in place.
On her first full day on the job, Pugh said she has seen a "transformation taking place" in the police department and said she plans to "keep our police commissioner, at this point."
Commissioner Kevin Davis has implemented police body cameras and a number of changes since the Justice Department's scathing August report that documented widespread police misconduct, Pugh said. The former state senator noted some of the change was required by the General Assembly early this year.
"While the DOJ report is significant and important and much of what is in there needs to take place, I want to make sure that … we don't get a bill for body cameras on police officers when we are already doing it," Pugh said.
Asked if she believes a court-ordered agreement between the city and federal government is necessary, Pugh said, "I would not say the consent decree is not needed."
Many have questioned the future of the negotiations under President-elect Donald J. Trump's administration. Trump selected Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as the next U.S. attorney general, and Democrats worry the Republican administration will not be as tough on police reform as the Democratic Obama administration.
Pugh said she is awaiting a full update from the city's negotiating team to ensure she is "comfortable that we are in a position to continue to negotiate," adding "it is my first day on the job and [I] need to find out exactly where we are."
The new mayor said changing the culture of the department and behavior of police officers is important, as is ensuring officers understand the communities they work in.
To that end, she said she wants more police officers to live in the city. Pugh said she has begun conversations with the commissioner, real estate agents and others to find new ways to offer incentives, such as discounted rent, to encourage more officers to live in Baltimore.
She said she is also specifically concerned with people being "overly arrested."
"We don't want people to end up with records that they don't need to have," Pugh said.
Acting City Solicitor David Ralph said the negotiating team has "absolutely no" projected time table on completing the consent decree. Officials initially said they expected it to be complete by Nov. 1, but have since called the date unrealistic.
Ralph also said he now thinks early projections that the consent decree will cost up to $10 million a year are low. He did not offer an estimate.
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"It is a comprehensive document with hidden costs throughout it," Ralph said. "This is a document that is being developed. Costs are being identified all of the time as it continues to be developed."
City officials are combing through consent decrees and talking to officials from other police agencies to more fully understand any problems that may arise.
"It's about having something that is done properly where the focus is on reform and not on something that doesn't result in reform," Ralph said.
The city and Justice Department are expected to eventually agreed to a federal monitor to track the implementation of the agreement, but one has not been selected.
"First [we must agree] on what the consent decree would entail," Ralph said. Next, the Justice Department, city and public would be given a chance to offer input.