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"Violence is unacceptable no matter who does it. Vandalism is unacceptable no matter who does it....It's time for calm. It's time for the kids to go home. It's time to remember the vast majority of Baltimore's citizens are law abiding"
"Violence is unacceptable no matter who does it. Vandalism is unacceptable no matter who does it....It's time for calm. It's time for the kids to go home. It's time to remember the vast majority of Baltimore's citizens are law abiding" (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski met with religious leaders from the Sandtown-Winchester area Monday morning to discuss her proposals to reform what she called a "trust gap" between police and the communities they serve.

Mikulski attached several police reform proposals to an appropriations bill that faces an uncertain future, though the senator said she hoped to have it signed by President Barack Obama by the end of the summer. Mikulski is seeking to require police departments applying for grants from the U.S. Justice Department to prove they have trained officers about the proper use of force, racial and ethnic bias, conflict de-escalation, and civic and public engagement.

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"There is a trust gap between the people and the police department," Mikulski said Monday at the meeting at First Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Sandtown-Winchester. "We saw it in Baltimore, but our challenges are not unique. It is happening all over America. People need to have confidence in their police department."

Police departments would also be required to tell the Justice Department when an officer is killed in the line of duty or when a prisoner dies in custody.

"Right now also there is no mandate for the reporting of lethal force," said Mikulski, a Democrat. "We don't know the extent of what goes on in police-civilian interaction that results in death. There is no data. We don't know if it's 100 people, we don't know if its 1,000 people, we don't know if its geographically focused, or is it across the board. The Justice Department simply doesn't know and therefore how can it intervene?"

The senator added that her proposals would benefit both police and communities. "The police are doing the right thing, and we need our police department," she said. "We need to respect our police and the police need to respect the community."

Mikulski, the vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, attached her language to the $51 billion Commerce, Science, and Justice spending bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

After giving details on her proposals to the media, the roundtable meeting between Mikulski and with a couple dozen pastors and other leaders from churches including New Born Community of Faith, Mount Lebanon Baptist and St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, was closed to the press. She was introduced by Rev. Derrick DeWitt, the pastor of First Mount Calvary Baptist Church, who said he got his first summer job as a teen passing out fliers for Mikulski's campaign.

Al Stokes, an elder at New Song Community Church in Sandtown-Winchester, praised Mikulski's proposals.

"I think this is a tremendous opportunity," he said. "There is definitely a need for police reform. Many children do not know an Officer Friendly."

Mikulski, when asked about a recent drop in arrests by Baltimore police amid a spike in homicides, said she wanted more information on the potential causes. "We need to know more about what's going on," she said.

The bill also includes $20 million more for police body cameras; $22 million to reduce the rate at which ex-convicts return to prison; $14 million for the Justice Department's Community Relations Service, which works to mediate racial tensions; and $15 million for crime prevention grants. Mikulski would also require the Justice Department to develop a strategy to help states upgrade their IT systems so that local departments can submit crime information.

President Obama has threatened to veto any spending bill that does not roll back deep sequester cuts approved in 2011, leaving Mikulski's provisions uncertain.

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