“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’
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.
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.
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’
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.”
“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
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.
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…