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Justice Dept. Asks Judge To ‘Hold A Sec’ On Police Reform

Mary Rose Madden

After months of negotiations, Baltimore police and the U.S. Justice Department reached an agreement on a roadmap to police reform. But now, Justice Department lawyers have asked a federal judge to wait 90 days before finalizing that map.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he was “disappointed” but “not shocked” that the Justice Department pushed the pause button.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “We’re ready to go with the consent decree.”  

Davis said police reform is already under way in Baltimore, pointing to trial boards that the public can witness at City Hall, a new taser policy, and the implementation of police body cameras.

But the consent decree would kick up the pace and provide much needed funding for training, technology, and equipment. It would also make the commitment to police reform binding. The federal judge and an independent investigator make sure “the can doesn’t get kicked down the road,” Davis said.

There’s a lot of work to do in Baltimore, he said, pointing to the federal investigation that found a systemic pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing.  The investigation was outlined in a 200 plus page report that landed last August. “The challenges in our city are documented and detailed in the report.” 

Davis said it seems the decision to wait was made, “…at least to me without a whole lot of justification. I don’t hear any particulars associated with the need to get a 90 day extension.”

He said he sympathized with the community’s anxiety over this decision, which comes from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions ordered a sweeping review of agreements made among police departments nationwide, local government leaders, and community members. These agreements were months - sometimes years in the making, with much negotiating and compromise.

Davis said reform is hard, it’s messy, and there’s no time to waste.  

Mary Rose is a reporter and senior news producer for 88.1 WYPR FM, a National Public Radio member station in Baltimore. At the local news desk, she assigns stories, organizes special coverage, edits news stories, develops series and reports.