Police consent monitors keeping an eye on Harlem Park complaints

The independent monitoring team overseeing the Baltimore police consent decree said Tuesday night that it is keeping an eye on complaints from a Harlem Park neighborhood after it was shut down last week for an investigation into the killing of a police detective.

“We are really, really carefully looking at this event,” lead monitor Ken Thompson told a group of about 30 residents who gathered at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School’s for the first of four planned community events that aim to gather input from Baltimoreans.

But, Thompson emphasized, the monitors cannot become involved in active police investigations as they complete plans for how they will oversee police reforms in Baltimore.

He said the team has received many emails about the section of Harlem Park that police shut down while investigating the killing of Detective Sean Suiter last week. Some residents complained about having to show identification to officers before being allowed to enter their homes and being blocked from driving down their streets.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has expressed concern about the police response and said it has received reports of people being subjected to pat-downs and nonresidents being barred from entering the area.

If formal complaints are filed, and wrongdoing is found to have happened, Thompson said, the monitor will make sure appropriate discipline is put in place.

In speaking of his team’s general aims, Thompson said, “We want to hear from the community, how you want to see the community engagement in this monitoring plan.

“This is so important to us. We don’t want to assume we know what you want,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first time the monitoring team members have spoken publicly since they were appointed in early October.

The team is responsible for overseeing a federal consent decree reached this year after a Justice Department investigation into the Baltimore Police Department following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray of injuries sustained while in 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 was picked by city and U.S. Department of Justice officials and approved by U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar.

The team is drafting plans for conducting a one-year assessment of the department’s progress in implementing reforms outlined in the 227-page consent decree, as well as a five-year assessment.

It has until early January to submit its monitoring plans to the judge.

“We recognize the awesome responsibility we have to get this right,” Thompson said.

The decree requires the department to update policies, training and technology in various areas, including the way it deals with the community and handles instances of officer misconduct.

To improve police relationships with residents, the decree mandates eight hours of annual training for officers on community policing and “problem-oriented” methods. It also requires the department to submit annual reports on its efforts to engage residents, including meetings with community leaders and creating opportunities for youths.

To reduce unlawful stops and searches, another focus of the consent decree, officers will be required to use more than “boilerplate language” when describing the reason for stopping or detaining people. The decree also calls for enhanced training for officers in use-of-force investigations, transporting individuals in custody and handling reports of sexual assault.

Thompson said the monitor must “fairly assess” the department’s progress, and report back to Bredar and the community.

The process requires not only collecting data, but hearing from residents to see if those reforms are creating changes on the street, deputy monitor Seth Rosenthal said.

The other public meetings with the monitor teams are:

• Nov. 28, 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Frederick Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway.

• Nov. 29, 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, 1400 Orleans St.

• Dec. 19, 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Harford Heights Elementary School, 1919 N. Broadway.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

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