Baltimore, DOJ consent decree negotiations to continue beyond target date

Negotiations over Baltimore police reforms to continue beyond target date

Negotiations between Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice over a package of sweeping police reforms will not conclude next week as both sides had hoped, city officials said Friday.

Both sides had set an ambitious, self-imposed deadline for concluding negotiations over a formal consent decree outlining the reforms by Tuesday.

On Friday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called the deadline "aspirational in nature" and said the negotiations are continuing.

"As part of the process, the City and DOJ have actively encouraged and received feedback from a wide array of community members, civic leaders, and law enforcement organizations throughout the city in order to find solutions that will create lasting reform within the Baltimore Police Department," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "The City continues to negotiate collaboratively and in good faith to reach a long-term resolution with the Department of Justice that serves the best interests of the citizens of Baltimore."

Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor, said she remains "hopeful that this can be done by the end of her term," which concludes in early December. Rawlings-Blake is not seeking re-election.

At the same time, McCarthy said, the negotiations "are meticulous and each fine point is worthy of every consideration," and Rawlings-Blake "believes that the citizens and the Baltimore Police Department deserve this consent decree to be done right regardless of the time required to reach a conclusion."

Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement that her staff "understand the importance of moving forward on reform as quickly as possible and are working tirelessly to reach an agreement in the near future."

T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, referred all questions to the mayor's office.

In August, the Justice Department released a report that found the Baltimore Police Department had engaged for years in unconstitutional tactics — particularly in poor black neighborhoods — including unjust stops, searches and arrests, excessive force and retaliation against people engaged in protected free speech.

In response, the Justice Department and the city released a joint "agreement in principle" stating their desire to negotiate a formal consent decree outlining court-enforceable reforms that the Police Department will have to implement in coming months and years. The agreement said both the Justice Department and the city wanted to complete the process "in as expeditious a manner as possible, so that the important work of implementing reforms can proceed to this next level."

The agreement said the two sides "intend to have completed negotiations" by Nov. 1.

"To these ends, the Parties commit to work collaboratively, earnestly, and with necessary urgency to ensure that they have achieved the mutual goal of sustainable reform," they wrote. "The Parties anticipate that these reform measures will enhance public safety and make the work of police officers more effective and safer."

Once attorneys for the city and the Justice Department reach an agreement, it will have to go before the City Council. A federal monitor will then be selected to oversee the city's compliance with the decree.

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