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City leaders call on new officers to help change police department

Baltimore City police academy cadets prepare for graduation.
Baltimore City police academy cadets prepare for graduation. (Baltimore Police Department Photo)

As city leaders welcomed the newest class of police officers to the force Friday, they called on graduates to help change the culture of a department that has come under scrutiny for brutality.

"You have a responsibility to carry that badge in the correct way," Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said. "I'm starting a revolution here, and I want you to be a part of that revolution. And it starts with you."

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The comments came as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Batts said the U.S. Department of Justice's community policing division would conduct a "collaborative review" of the department. She unveiled a 41-page plan this week with proposed reforms.

The plan includes recommendations to increase staff for the internal affairs division, negotiate with the police union for broader authority to discipline rogue cops and look into equipping officers with body cameras.

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Referring to "recent headlines," Rawlings-Blake urged the 35 graduates Friday not to be distracted by the "despicable actions of a few bad actors."

"Use it instead as motivation," she said. "You have gotten here by showing a great level of integrity and a great level of professionalism. I would like you to continue that every day of your service."

The federal review was announced after The Baltimore Sun published a six-month investigation that showed more than 100 people had won court judgments or settlements since 2011 related to allegations of brutality or civil rights violations. All told, the city paid $5.7 million.

Some individual officers faced multiple lawsuits, while nearly all of the civilians involved in the incidents leading to the lawsuits were cleared of criminal charges. The city just started tracking the lawsuits in a comprehensive way this year.

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Batts, whom Rawlings-Blake praised as a "great leader," reminisced about his start as a young officer, when he imagined a life of foot chases and driving fast, but he cautioned the audience, "That's not really what our job is all about."

"This is not about cops and robbers. This is not about chasing people. This is about the civil rights of Americans," he said.

Cody Holliday, who received an award Friday, said Batts' speech gave him "goose bumps" and that he and his classmates had received a memo about reforms for the department. The academy graduates about five classes each year.

"We're definitely aware of it," said Holliday, 27, of Havre de Grace.

Ekambram Prasad of New York, father of the class' valedictorian, Rajasaker Prasad, said he was proud of his son and hopeful about the direction of the department.

"I'm very proud," he said. "They're creating a new generation."

The comments from political leaders are to be expected, said Dennis Lambert, 58, of Halethorpe, who came to watch his fiancee's nephew graduate.

"They're going to say what people want to hear," he said. "The public wants action. They want to be able to walk the streets and be safe."

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