Federal judge approves police consent decree
U.S. District Judge James Bredar approved Friday a police reform agreement negotiated between Baltimore City and the U.S. Justice Department, despite Trump administration requests to hold off on that approval.
Bredar’s ruling came only a day after an hours-long hearing in which Justice Department lawyers asked for a 30-day delay to re-evaluate the agreement finalized in the last days of the Obama administration.
The case has already been settled, the judge wrote, and the parties have agreed.
He said it would be "extraordinary" to allow one side to "unilaterally amend an agreement already reached and signed."
He called the problems in the city’s police department "urgent," and said it is "time to get to work" on reforms.
The agreement, negotiated over six months, stems from a civil rights investigation prompted by the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody. The investigation, completed last summer, found that Baltimore’s police department systematically violated citizens’ rights.
The agreement requires additional training for police on tactics to de-escalate tense situations and how to interact with youth and others, such as those with mental illnesses. It places limits on how and when officers can engage criminal suspects and requires the city to invest in improved technology.
Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement the city will "continue to move forward in reforming" the police department.
"Our goal is a stronger police department that fights crime while it serves and protects the civil and constitutional rights of our residents," she said.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement calling the negotiations for the agreement "a rushed process by the previous administration."
"While the Department of Justice continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore," he said, "I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city."
Sherrilyn Ifill, head of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, thanked the court "for speedily approving an agreement that will help ensure constitutional policing" in Baltimore.
The fund sought permission Thursday to intervene in the case.
Ifill said the consent decree represents "the first step" toward better policing.
"The hard work is far from over," she said. "But this agreement provides the necessary framework to eradicate widespread and systemic police misconduct through sustainable reform."