The Baltimore Police Department is requiring all of its officers to go through 80 hours of in-service training this year — twice as many hours as last year — in order to ramp up their understanding of deescalation tactics, appropriate methods of interacting with youths and other community-oriented enforcement and engagement practices, Commissioner Kevin Davis said on Tuesday.
"The state of Maryland requires 40 hours, but I'm requiring 80 hours," Davis said. "A lot of that has to do with communication, deescalation, the use of less lethal tools, interactions with young people."
The shift is in part a response to a scathing report by the Department of Justice last summer that criticized the police department for failing to properly train its officers on those and other tactics. The announcement comes amid final negotiations between the city and the Justice Department over a court-enforced consent decree — expected to be finalized this week — that will likely mandate further training enhancements within the police department.
Since the Department of Justice announced it would be investigating the department in 2015, Davis has sought to independently introduce reforms to get ahead of the curve and show the police department is committed to improving. Among other changes, the department has also revamped its "use of force" policy to be more in line with national best practices espoused by the Justice Department.
In its findings report in August, the Department of Justice slammed the department for insufficient training of its officers, particularly in relation to the use of force, deescalation tactics, and methods of interacting with young people and people with disabilities or who are in crisis.
The report found that the police department's training "generally fails to provide officers with sufficient instruction" and "lacks the integrated, scenario-based training that equips officers with the tactical skills necessary to conduct law enforcement activities in a safe and constitutional manner, including strategies that decrease the need for force."
The report also found that the police department uses "unreasonable force" against juveniles, using "the same aggressive tactics they use with adults, leading to unnecessary conflict."
"It is apparent that officers have not received guidance nor have been trained on well-established best practices for police interactions with juveniles that account for their developmental stage and prevent the unnecessary criminalization of overwhelmingly minority youth," the report said. "The lack of policy and training for these interactions results in excessive force being used against youths."
The Justice Department report also praised the police department for taking recent steps to improve training, but said more needed to be done.
Davis declined on Tuesday to discuss any additional training requirements he expects will be required under the consent decree. He also declined to comment on when he expects the city's negotiations with the Justice Department to conclude.
"I certainly don't want to speak prematurely," he said. "But I'm very, very optimistic about exactly where we are right now and I'm looking forward to talking about it later this week."
T.J. Smith, a department spokesman, said it was unclear whether the increased in-service training — which pulls officers out of the field — would further strain patrol shifts. Davis acknowledged last week that patrol shifts were understaffed after police union officials raised the issue as a problem. Smith said scheduling is still underway.