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Baltimore Police unveil new policies on stopping and searching residents to comply with federal consent decree

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced Wednesday that the department has implemented a new “stops, searches and arrests” policy as it works to eliminate unconstitutional interactions with the public and comply with a federal consent decree.

Harrison said at a morning press conference that the new policy went into effect this week and requires officers to be trained on a variety of matters, including what constitutes “reasonable, articulable suspicion” for an officer to stop a resident. The policy also covers when officers should subject residents to a weapons pat down.

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The new policy, which is available for review on the department’s website, “provides the foundation for constitutional and effective policing,” Harrison said.

“To be clear, these policies do not handcuff our police officers,” Harrison said. “Quite the opposite. Our new policies and training guide our officers on how to effectively fight crime while building public trust.”

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Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison talks Wednesday about changes to policies and training since the consent decree implementation and compliance.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison talks Wednesday about changes to policies and training since the consent decree implementation and compliance. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

The changes are part of ongoing efforts to upgrade training to comply with a consent order the city reached with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017. The agreement is designed to, among other things, monitor and improve how officers patrol streets and interact with individuals after a Justice Department investigation found that officers routinely violated people’s rights during stops, searches and seizures, and lacked adequate training.

The newly implemented policy includes several sections on training officers as to when they are allowed to conduct investigative stops of city residents.

Part of the policy teaches officers that people fleeing when they see police is not an adequate pretext for an investigative stop. It specifically points to “jump outs at corners,” or the practice of officers jumping out of their cruisers at intersections with a reputation for drug sales and stopping anyone who runs away. It says that “a person’s response to police presence is not” reasonable suspicion and that “the practice harms community trust.”

The new training instructs officers to avoid inflaming situations, especially when dealing with agitated suspects, by talking to them and trying to calm them down before using physical measures.

The policies also specifies that incidents involving mental health issues “do not justify arrest over a less intrusive option.”

The department has been under fire from federal investigators and city officials about how officers handle potentially violent situations, particularly those involving issues of behavioral or mental health.

After the police shot a man last year who pulled out a firearm while experiencing a behavioral crisis, the organization that oversees the city’s behavioral health services said the incident showed the department’s current system was “a total failure” that needed better integration with the city’s mental health professionals.

Harrison said the entire department is being retrained on crisis intervention policy “and behavioral health to promote safer encounters between the police and our community.”

Matt Klingenstein, a patrol officer from the Northeast District, said that the new policies also promote more community engagement when officers respond to incidents.

“It also gives me the ability to explain to citizens or the people that you’re dealing with on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how you’re going to do it,” Klingenstein said of the new policy. “And you can also give them information to enlighten them on what they can do to see what you’re doing, how they can feel like they’re involved in the change in the police department and what they can do to have a better police department serve them.”

Mayor Brandon Scott praised the new policy while emphasizing the need for the department to better comply with the consent decree, saying that holding the department to the document’s standards is “the responsibility of all the citizens of Baltimore and not just BPD.”

“The policies BPD is training officers on have been intentionally crafted with community input, something that a young Brandon Scott would have never thought possible here in the city of Baltimore,” the mayor said.

While the second public comment period on the draft policy and training plan ended on Jan. 17, Harrison said the department will continue to host virtual workshops with the community to receive feedback on the new policies and procedures.

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