“[T]he Consent Decree is nothing more than an omnipotent and proverbial misguided hammer being brought down upon the wrong nail,” wrote Ed Hutchison, president of the National Police Association, in a letter addressed to President Donald Trump last week.
The letter suggests the U.S. Justice Department has the authority to modify the requirements under the federal consent decree, which Hutchison said are unrealistic expectations that are actually contributing to violence in the city.
“The Consent Decree does little to assist or support officers, but overwhelmingly burdens them with increased level of report-writing, confusing and at times contradictory standards of interaction and policing, training that exceeds even the highest amount of training required from legal professionals,” Hutchison wrote.
The letter, however, acknowledges that the decree is enforced by U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar, and any such changes would have to be approved by the court.
The organization, which is identified as a nonprofit based in Indianapolis, did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday morning.
Jim Pasco, the executive director at National Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the Baltimore police union, said Tuesday he was not familiar with the National Police Association. However, he said the National FOP, which represents 335,000 law enforcement officers, agreed, saying “it is an oppressive and unreasonable consent decree that only serves to exacerbate the relationship between police and the community.”
Pasco said officers feel limited and dis-empowered on the job for fear they will be judged harshly or have to justify their actions.
“Officers feel under the consent decree that they are being required to articulate all of their activities,” when they should be patrolling and protecting the community, he said. “Officers are then held to an unreasonable and almost whimsical standard by elected and appointed officials under the guise of protecting the public,” Pasco said. “They’re still doing the best they can every day but with apprehension.”
Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said consent decree reforms aid in reducing crime. Prior to coming to Baltimore, Harrison oversaw consent decree reforms as superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department.
“The consent decree did not make officers soft on crime in New Orleans (in fact, it contributed to significant declines in violent crime), and it will not make officers soft on crime in Baltimore,” Harrison said in a statement. “It will only ensure that officers do their jobs in a constitutional way.”
Harrison said he believes in proactive policing, and has relayed that message to the entire department.
He said Baltimore’s consent decree “will help reform the Baltimore Police Department, and make Baltimore a safer city, by instituting national best practices in constitutional policing.”
The consent decree agreement, reached between the city and Justice Department reached in April 2017, followed a Justice Department investigation that found officers in Baltimore engaged in widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory policing. Prior to the consent decree’s approval, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had expressed "grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city.”
The National Police Association letter comes after City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer released results of an informal survey of 362 officers, many of whom said they felt they were restricted by the consent decree, while some said they didn’t understand it.
The results showed 43 percent of officers said they do not feel “comfortable making self-initiated arrests,” which Schleifer said refers to officers intervening in incidents and making arrests without having been called to the scene.
The city is in the second year of implementing consent decree reforms, with much of the work involving training officers on new policies. It’s expected to take at least seven years to reach compliance with the consent decree’s requirements.
A White House spokesman did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.