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Residents express frustration over pace of police consent decree monitoring

Residents gathered Tuesday night at the second public meeting on the Baltimore police consent decree expressed frustration over what they said was the slow process of the monitors, asking why they weren’t in the Harlem Park neighborhood that was shut down for days after the fatal shooting of Detective Sean Suiter.

“Here’s the epic fail — not one of them showed up,” said Monique Smith. She said team members should have gone to the neighborhood to observe police who had taped off part of the neighborhood and restricted access, checking residents’ identification while looking for evidence related to the detective’s death.

The monitoring team is responsible for overseeing the a federal consent decree reached between the city and U.S. Department of Justice officials earlier this year.

Several dozen attended Tuesday’s meeting at Frederick Douglass High School’s auditorium—the second of four being held across the city to solicit input from the community before the monitoring team submits its plan to a federal judge in January.

The team is working to create a one-year and five-year plan to monitor the department’s compliance with the decree.

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

The mandate 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.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, many residents expressed concern that team members were not more actively involved in immediate problems with police actions.

“We are dying every day [and] it’s going to take them one year to get acclimated,” Smith said of the monitors.

“You don’t look hungry enough for me. You’re too passive,” she said of the team.

Lead monitor Ken Thompson assured residents that monitors were aware of the community’s concerns and they were keeping an eye on the situation. However, Thompson has said the team’s actions is limited by the federal decree.

The team, he said, is responsible for making sure the department is complying with the mandated reforms.

The plan they are working on, he said, is an important “roadmap” for instituting the reforms.

But several residents interrupted the presentation, asking for action now, and not to wait for a formal plan to be written and wait for data to be collected.

“Come and see what’s going on in the community,” called out one woman. She said that if a police officer had been killed in Roland Park, a predominantly white and wealthy neighborhood, the response would have been different.

Others expressed concern that monitors didn’t do enough to alert residents to the meetings and questioned why they don’t post information on Twitter and Facebook, to reach more residents.

Monitors members said they have not yet received approval from a federal judge to create new social media accounts.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh briefly attended part of the meeting, sitting next to some residents who asked questions. She chatted with them quietly as the presentation continued.

Gary Nelson, a city firefighter, left amid the back-and-forth in the auditorium.

“I feel this descending,” he said of the exchanges.

Nelson said he’s concerned that the monitor team, which includes lawyers, former law enforcement officials, policing experts and mediators, does not include residents.

He also said he’s worried that the concerns of residents about police will be overlooked.

Smith said she volunteers with Loving Arms, a nonprofit that works with homeless youths, and has struggled to get police officers to write reports for missing children.

She said taking a report is an example of an opportunity for offcers to build positive relationships with the community.

“You want to be friendly, take a police report,” she said. “It’s a piece of paper, and you don’t need to get in your car and get in a high-speed chase.”

But Smith said she had hopes that the consent decree will result in a better police force.

The other public meetings scheduled by monitors are:

• Wednesday, 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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