Rep. Elijah E. Cummings has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to clarify when Baltimore police can make arrests — a move designed to address concerns that officers have voiced since prosecutors charged six members of the force in the death of Freddie Gray.
The Baltimore Democrat said Saturday that he met recently with 25 city officers and several community leaders to hear their concerns. Several officers said they wanted assurances about when they can arrest suspects.
"They were looking for clarification. They were reluctant to arrest people under certain circumstances," Cummings said. "To me, that's a major concern. They need to be clear about what their powers are."
Some city residents are worried about safety because arrests have fallen significantly in recent weeks — even though May saw the most city homicides in any month since 1990. In some neighborhoods, arrests dropped by 95 percent from April to May.
Some officers have said they are hesitant to make arrests, for fear of being charged by prosecutors if a suspect is injured.
Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal injury while in police custody and later died, triggering protests and riots.
Lt. Gene Ryan, the president of the police union, said recently that officers have continued to make arrests but they "may be second guessing themselves."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has told the police union that officers need to do their jobs or face internal discipline.
Cummings said he asked the Justice Department, which is also conducting a civil rights investigation of city police, to provide a response about the arrest issue soon. He plans to meet with Commissioner Anthony Batts on Tuesday and will reach out to State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's office to discuss the matter.
Cummings said officers at his meeting expressed confusion about whether they could handcuff someone to ask questions. He described an example in which an officer pursues someone believed to be dangerous, and wants to handcuff the suspect for safety reasons.
"They thought it was OK do that. Apparently they received information that that was not the case. They were confused," Cummings said.
Cummings said he requested the meeting, asking the Police Department to provide a group of officers of various ranks from across the city. He said they did not explicitly refer to the six officers charged following Gray's arrest and death, but Cummings believes the arrest sparked the issue.
"I think it's a legitimate concern. They have gotten mixed messages," he said.
Cummings hopes to have some information from the Justice Department in the next week or so.
"I don't want to sit on the sidelines and watch our crime rates go up," Cummings said. "If there was an issue with regard to a police slowdown, I wanted to make sure we address whatever the police concerns are."
It's important to bring the police and community together because they need each other to combat crime, he said. He would like to see more engagement between the two, including community ride-alongs with officers and discussions with youth.