Baltimore is ‘ahead of the game’ with police reform, but there’s still much work to be


“That accountability ultimately led to reform, and because of that reform, we had a spotlight on the entrenched police corruption in one of the largest police agencies in the country,” Mosby told CNN.

As a result of the case, officers are now mandated to seatbelt those in custody, call a medic when it’s requested, and intervene when fellow officers cross the line, Mosby said. Additionally, all police vans must be equipped with cameras.

Department underwent a ‘total makeover’

A Baltimore police officer patrols Friday, April 17, 2020, in the area of unrest after Freddie Gray, who lived nearby, was arrested more than five years ago.  A Baltimore police officer patrols Friday, April 17, 2020, in the area of unrest after Freddie Gray, who lived nearby, was arrested more than five years ago.
In the wake of Gray’s death, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the Department of Justice to order a civil rights investigation into the city’s police department. The findings revealed a “pattern-or-practice of constitutional violations,” including excessive force and racially biased arrests. The probe ultimately led to the implementation of a federal consent decree in 2017 mandating systemic reform.
Baltimore has since undergone a “total makeover” of its police department after rewriting new policies, according to Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who also serves as the president of the board for the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a national police research and policy organization that advises police leaders on best practices.
Crime is becoming one of America's biggest political issuesCrime is becoming one of America's biggest political issues

Baltimore now has “probably the most robust” use-of-force policy in the country, which emphasizes the “sanctity of life” and de-escalation strategies, Harrison told CNN. The department has also revised policies on stops, searches and arrests, fair and impartial policing, youth engagement, peer intervention, responding to lesser offenses, and behavioral health awareness and crisis intervention.

In 2016, Baltimore was already ahead of many other big city police agencies in assigning body-worn cameras to every sworn member of the department. Officers are using less force and are receiving fewer complaints, a sign that the city is “turning the corner,” Harrison said, but the department still has a “long way to go” in becoming more responsive and respectful to the community.

Despite the significant reforms being implemented, many residents in neighborhoods that are most affected by the city’s ongoing violence have yet to see the cultural changes within the department or experience a more trusting relationship with police, according to Ray Kelly, a lifelong resident and community advocate of West Baltimore. Kelly is also the lead community liaison for the Independent Monitoring Team, which was appointed by a federal judge to help oversee the implementation of the consent decree.
Tensions rise in policing talks as negotiations hit a delicate phaseTensions rise in policing talks as negotiations hit a delicate phase

A national reckoning over policing, however, has prompted many agencies to regard Baltimore as a model, looking at its reform policies as they revise their own, Commissioner Harrison said. This comes as the Justice Department has begun ramping up efforts to hold police accountable for misconduct and constitutional violations.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has launched two separate federal civil probes into departments in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by then-officer Derek Chauvin, and in Louisville, where Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by officers in her apartment during a botched raid. Garland said the investigations would determine whether the agencies have a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.”
After a Minneapolis jury found Chauvin guilty on murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd’s death, Commissioner Harrison pledged to “reeducate our officers about our policies and double down on both our policies and training.”

Even as Baltimore approaches the fifth year of its consent decree, the department is not in compliance with “any component” of the mandated reforms, nor have there been any significant changes at the street level, said Ray Kelly.

Consent decree about ‘constitutional policing’

Ray Kelly is the lead community liaison for the Independent Monitoring Team, which was appointed by a federal judge to help oversee the implementation of the consent decree.Ray Kelly is the lead community liaison for the Independent Monitoring Team, which was appointed by a federal judge to help oversee the implementation of the consent decree.
US District Judge James Bredar will determine when the city is in full compliance, but it could take years before residents see and feel a difference in how police engage with communities, Kelly said.

“We don’t know how long it’s going to take to undo the embedded corruption and racism in the Baltimore Police Department,” Kelly said.

The most recent report by the Independent Monitoring Team indicated that the city is on the right track. The report says that Baltimore’s compliance with the consent decree is “no longer merely aspirational, it is plausible,” with foundational reforms in “policies, training and operations in place.”

Congress only having a 'framework' for police reform is unacceptable Congress only having a 'framework' for police reform is unacceptable

“Reform is now moving off the drawing board and into practice and performance,” the report says. The agency’s training academy has been leading a rigorous program of in-person and virtual courses on revised policies that the monitoring team praised as its “greatest accomplishment so far.”

The department has designed and completed training on new policies such as stops, searches, and arrests, behavioral health awareness, peer intervention and misconduct investigations.

But reform efforts are routinely eclipsed by the high level of violence that continues to plague Baltimore’s underserved communities, claiming a disproportionate number of Black lives, and perpetuating a cycle of grief and trauma. The city had its second-deadliest year on record in 2019 with 348 homicides. Baltimore recorded 335 homicides in 2020 and is headed on the same path with 167 homicides halfway into this year.

“We have the blueprint the country wants for police reform, but police reform is in no way the definition of public safety,” said Ray Kelly. “If you’re investing in the root causes of crime and violence, you diminish the need for so much aggressive policing in communities. This consent decree is not about public safety, it’s about constitutional policing.”

San Francisco confronts surging crime, drugs and homelessness as it tries to bounce back from Covid-19San Francisco confronts surging crime, drugs and homelessness as it tries to bounce back from Covid-19

Commissioner Harrison echoed the same sentiment, arguing that government leaders must address issues such as poverty, lack of education and opportunities, and substandard housing that either “pull or push people into a life of crime for survival.”

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott was among several state and local leaders who last week met with President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss the nationwide surge in violent crime. Biden unveiled a comprehensive crime-fighting strategy after the meeting, emphasizing the need for stricter gun laws. Over 80% of guns in Baltimore are coming from outside of the city and 63% come from out of state, according to the mayor.

“What was the most beneficial and caused the most hope for me is having a president that understands we have to start investing in community-based leaders who run a violence intervention and prevention program,” Mayor Scott told CNN.

Gray’s death set precedent for accountability

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, seen here in 2016, says the Freddie Gray case instigated a new push for stronger police accountability lawsBaltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, seen here in 2016, says the Freddie Gray case instigated a new push for stronger police accountability laws

On April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray encountered police officers in a high-crime area that was notorious for drug dealing. Gray, after making eye contact with police, ran. The officers arrested him on a weapons charge after finding a knife in his pocket, according to prosecutors.

Gray was put into the back of a police van without cameras, “handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained.” He was found unresponsive 40 minutes later upon arriving at the police station, prosecutors said. After slipping into a coma, Gray died one week later from a spinal cord injury. The medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide.

On the day of his funeral, the city broke out in widespread protests that gave way to violence and looting, prompting Gov. Larry Hogan to call in the National Guard and declare a state of emergency. A week into the protests, State’s Attorney Mosby announced charges against the six officers involved in his arrest.
Rising crime puts Democrats on edgeRising crime puts Democrats on edge

Baltimore recorded 342 homicides that year, a 62% increase over 2014. More than 90% of the victims were Black men. Community-police relations were further strained in 2017 when authorities indicted eight members of an elite plainclothes unit known as the Gun Trace Task Force who were accused of extensive corruption — planting evidence, taking drug dealers’ money and selling…



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