U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said Friday he supports the U.S. Justice Department investigation into the Baltimore police department.

"It's something we need to do. I think this is what must be a transformative moment," he said.


On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Department of Justice will launch a full-scale civil rights investigation into Baltimore's police. The investigation comes at the urging of many local lawmakers and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and follows a series of events that culminated with unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old resident who died after suffering spinal cord injuries while in police custody.

Cummings commented on the DOJ investigation after addressing a group students at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's "Engage Baltimore Forum," where he told students now, more than ever, the world needs impassioned leaders to improve the community.

After the forum, he noted a recent Baltimore Sun investigation that found the city had spent millions on police brutality lawsuits. He said while the investigation in the death of Gray continues, one thing that has been learned is that police did not follow procedures were not followed when the officers did not secure Gray inside the police van.

"We need to figure out how deep the problem is," he said. "Are these systemic problems? We need to fully understand what is going on in our department."

Cummings said he couldn't say what specific reforms he'd like to see come out of the investigation because it remains unclear what the issues are — and he said it's unfair to police to speculate.

"I want the information. I don't know the extent of the problems," he said.

Ultimately, Cummings hopes the investigation will lead to "trust and respect" between police and the community. "The community needs the police and the police need the community to solve crime," he said.

Cummings said has heard from many police officers who said they would welcome the investigation because they want to see improvements to create an "elite organization" that others would follow.

"It will benefit everybody," he said.

In his earlier comments to students, Cummings encouraged those in the audience to consider research on what the city needs and apply themselves to address grassroots issues. He said he's talked to about 150 young people in the past week, and many say they need education and recreation opportunities.

He told the Hopkins students that one city youngster told him, "I feel like I am in a casket and clawing my way out."

Cummings said it is crucial to find ways to improve lives for everyone across the city – and not solely through law enforcement.

"We cannot police our way out of problems," he said..