Reforming Baltimore police together

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis respond to the Department of Justice report. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

Anyone who has lived in Baltimore for decades, as I have, was not shocked to learn that the sacred trust between the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) and the people of Baltimore is desperately in need of repair.

The Department of Justice's (DOJ) report on its "pattern or practice" investigation of BPD details repeated violations of the constitutional rights of countless Baltimore residents, especially African Americans. Reading the accounts should infuriate us all.


The Constitution — the bedrock upon which our society is built — guarantees the human rights of all Americans, whether they live on North Avenue or in Roland Park. We cannot allow anyone to trample on the constitutional rights of our citizens. That imperative is non-negotiable.

Although heartbreaking, the report also offers a road map for how we can effectively improve policing in Baltimore, upholding both our safety and our constitutional guarantees. Unlike investigations and reviews of the past, we must ensure that this report results in comprehensive, lasting change.

The BPD's problems do not stem from a few bad apples that can simply be discarded. Rather, BPD must meaningfully implement sweeping structural reforms until each officer excels from the moment of hire through promotion into command.

This process of reform must be grounded in community policing. My neighbors tell me about the officers they encounter who practice such policing; many of them remember those officers by name. We need to make sure that those officers are held up as a shining example for the rest.

Officers must also be first responders. They must be the first to de-escalate a situation, be the ultimate defenders of constitutional rights and be fully woven into the fabric of our community.

These are a lot of responsibilities for each officer to bear. Their jobs are extremely difficult, but we can make their jobs easier and our communities safer with the best training and updated policies.

From the appropriate use of Tasers, to guidance on initiating a foot chase and how to interact with a victim of sexual assault, BPD policies and training are woefully inadequate. We must give our officers the tools they need to succeed by significantly overhauling BPD's policies to reflect best practices and ensuring each officer is fully trained on those policies.

These reforms cannot end at the police academy or even at the patrol level. All too often, supervisors have had opportunities to identify violations, but took no further action — or even condoned deplorable behavior. The report details that of 2,818 recorded uses of force reviewed, only 10 were investigated through BPD's internal review, and only one was found to be excessive. When compared with DOJ's findings of excessive and overly aggressive uses of force, there is something wrong with this picture. BPD supervisors at all levels must become experts in 21st Century policing and role models who hold officers in violation of policy accountable.


To help our police in these efforts, our systems of data collection and analysis must be expanded and strengthened. We must fully track trends across issue areas and officers so systemic problems can be solved more effectively.

Our officers must embrace these reforms, and we must monitor their progress. In other cities, it was not until community policing was incorporated into officers' job descriptions and affected their promotions that these cities started to see true change. I have told BPD Commissioner Kevin Davis that we must change how our officers are promoted if we want to implement lasting reform.

Reforming BPD with DOJ's help will be a long and difficult road, but it is a journey that we must take together.

In the coming months, BPD and DOJ will negotiate a consent decree that will outline the steps that BPD must take to solve its problems. There will be community meetings planned throughout the city as these negotiations take place. I will be there, and I hope to see many of my neighbors there as well.

The broken relationship between the police and the community must be addressed by us all, not only by BPD. As this process moves forward, we need input, cooperation and support from everyone, including the business community, academic experts, the clergy and faith leaders, government leaders at all levels, and residents of all races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds.

We must seize this moment, understanding full well that progress will not take months of effort from some of us, but, rather, years of effort from us all. Nevertheless, with the help of DOJ, I remain confident that Baltimore can and will overcome this challenge.


Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is a Democratic congressman from Baltimore. His email is Rep.Cummings@Mail.House.Gov.