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Civil rights group calls for transparency for Baltimore consent decree process

A leading national civil rights group has called for transparency from the team overseeing sweeping police reforms in Baltimore.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund officials on Thursday released a detailed letter to the monitoring team that is responsible for evaluating the Baltimore Police department’s progress in implementing federally mandated reforms required under a consent degree. The decree was reached between the city and U.S. Department of Justice earlier this year.

The Legal Defense Fund letter outlined 20 key areas that the monitor should focus on in the first year, and stressed that the group should remain transparent throughout the years-long process.

“It is critical that the parties and the monitor ensure that each and every requirement in the consent decree is carried out and that the implementation process is transparent,” the letter said. It was signed by Todd A. Cox, the Legal Defense Fund’s policy director, and Monique L. Dixon, the organization’s deputy policy director.

“This historic consent decree holds the promise of transforming the BPD into an agency of sworn officers and civilians who serve and protect communities, without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, age, and socio-economic status, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution, state and federal laws, and departmental policies,” the letter said.

The monitor, which reports for U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar, must submit a one-year plan and longer-term five year plan to the judge in early January.

The consent decree requires the plan to provide an overview of how the police department will comply with the mandate’s requirements, and include specific deadlines for the process. It also must include how the team will assess the police department, how it will share its findings with the judge, city and U.S. Department of Justice, and how the team will regularly communicate with the public. The decree requires the monitor to hold quarterly in-person meetings in different city neighborhoods.

The Legal Defense Fund letter requested the plan to include information on how the reforms will be put in place, and how data will be collected on areas including community engagement, use of force, arrests and other areas. For instance, the letter asks whether the police department will report stop, frisks, detention, arrests and civilian complaint data.

The consent decree was reached earlier this year after a Justice Department investigation into the police department following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained in police custody and the subsequent rioting in the city. That investigation found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing in Baltimore, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.

The monitoring team has recently held three of four public meetings across the city, discussing its role and process of the decree to residents, and soliciting feedback. The meetings have been sparsely attended. Some residents complained that the team hasn’t been proactive enough in reaching a wider swath of residents, and that the process is slow to prompt change. Some residents at a meeting Tuesday night in West Baltimore said the team should have went to the Harlem Park neighborhood while it was partially cordoned off as the police department investigated the death of homicide Det. Sean Suiter, who was shot on Nov. 15.

Lead monitor Ken Thompson said at meetings this week that the monitors cannot become involved in active police investigations. He said they were carefully reviewing the incident.

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