Team overseeing Baltimore Police consent decree assures public of progress despite turnover in department

Sweeping policy reforms are moving forward, despite turnover in the Baltimore police department, members of a team overseeing the Baltimore police consent decree told residents at a public meeting Tuesday night.

Six members of the independent monitoring team spoke to residents about the progress at its first quarterly update at Mount Pleasant Church in Northeast Baltimore.

While team members have been questioned about turnover at the police department, “There has not been any slowdown whatsoever,” said Charles Ramsey, a member of the monitoring team.

After Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa was appointed earlier this year, two top police officials in charge of consent decree implementation announced their departure.

Tuesday’s meeting comes a week before officials from the monitoring team, the police department and U.S. Department of Justice are expected to provide updates at a public hearing to U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar, who must evaluate the police department’s compliance with the consent decree.

The consent decree was reached between the city, police department and the Justice Department last year after a Justice Department investigation found that Baltimore police routinely violated residents’ civil rights, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods. The investigation was prompted by the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody.

Members of the monitoring team said Tuesday that the parties continue to move forward to meet deadlines outlined in a first year plan of the consent decree.

Many of the reforms call for reviews of policies, the development of training curricula and making assessments, “all of which are aimed at ensuring effective, safe, constitutional policing,” the monitor’s first year plan reads.

Monitoring team member Seth Rosenthal said Tuesday night that the team has been meeting regularly with police and Justice Department officials. The team is also in daily email or phone communication with Bredar.

“He is very actively involved,” Rosenthal said. The team meets every two weeks for several hours with the judge to discuss issues at a “granular level,” Rosenthal said.

Team members also meet regularly with members of the Baltimore police union and groups of officers to discuss the consent decree.

Several team members spoke of the progress in areas of the transportation of in-custody persons, use of force policy, misconduct investigations and community outreach.

Issues of police misconduct and use of force were focused on in the first year in response to community feedback and given community concerns raised after extensive corruption was discussed in trials for former Gun Trace Task Force officers, said monitoring team member Hassan Aden.

Aden said the police department supervisors have already been trained on new ways to take complaints against officers. After evaluating policies, he said the department no longer requires that complaints have to be filed in person but can now be collected online.

Several people who attended the meeting questioned why more has been done in the year since the consent decree was approved last April. Team members cautioned that the consent decree takes time, and that it requires policy changes, training and then assessment.

“Reform proceeds in stages,” Rosenthal said.

The monitor’s first-year plan also includes deadlines for community feedback and the drafting of revised policies on a range of topics, but many changes won’t be adopted by the department until later.

BPD first must establish revised policies in each area. Then it must develop and conduct training on those revised policies,” the plan states. “Only after officers have been trained on new policies and have worked under them for a meaningful period can the Monitoring Team comprehensively assess whether, across a material amount of time or number of events, new policies are actually resulting in the real-world changes that the Consent Decree requires.”

For example, the plan includes nearly 30 dates related to the review of the department’s use of force policy. A final policy is not scheduled to be approved until July, curriculum won’t be finalized until December and training won’t begin until next year, under the plan.

The consent decree also requires reforms on a range of topics, including how the police department investigates sexual assaults and policies to prevent racial profiling. It also requires the department to adopt better technology, improve hiring and retention within the department, and requires the city to create and promote programs to deter youth from the criminal justice system.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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