Time is of the essence. With all Baltimore City suffered over the past several months, the community has remained supportive of efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement on police reforms. After several fits and starts, it appears the process of negotiation between the City and the Department of Justice is on track. That’s where it must stay until we have a signed and judicially-approved consent decree. This is perhaps the last, best chance for
Rev. S. Todd Yeary, Ph.D. – Senior Pastor, Douglas Memorial Community Church; Principal, Community Churches for Community Development
Baltimore City residents and police to reform public safety. Failure to formalize and finalize reforms based on principles identified in the Aug. 9, 2016 “Agreement in Principle” document signed by representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the City of Baltimore (City), and Baltimore Police Department (BPD) will leave the efforts to rebuild confidence in the community-police relationship in Baltimore City severely compromised. Failure to reach consent will also remove the benefit of judicial oversight of the implementation of needed reforms, while leaving the City exposed to potential litigation (and settlement) for current and future constitutional violations. The popular tag line “You can pay now, or you can pay later” is appropriate here.
Since 1994, when the authority for DOJ to investigate police departments was codified in The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (42 USC § 14141), we have seen wide variance in the strategies utilized by U.S. Attorneys General to insure constitutional policing. If the U.S. District Court, prior to the federal transition of power, does not approve a consent decree between the City and DOJ, the opportunity for establishing necessary reforms will likely revert to the collaborative review process. This is unacceptable, as the collaborative review process begun prior to the pattern or practice investigation did not identify the level and types of violations found during the pattern or practice investigation. As a result, failure to reach an agreement on the decree could allow for the continued violations of Baltimoreans constitutional rights that have been persistent, imbedded aspects of the policing culture in the City. Be very clear, Attorneys General in Republican administrations rarely pursue consent decrees to remedy policing violations. Failure to reach an agreement could foster an environment of unconstitutional policing because of the perceived lack of oversight ability by the executive branch of City government.
Faith leaders, community organizations, and other advocacy groups have expressed concern about the state of negotiations around formalizing a consent decree between the City and DOJ on this issue. There is broad support for the Mayor Catherine Pugh’s efforts in insuring that an agreement is reached in the coming days. The findings of the recent DOJ pattern or practice investigation, requested by the City AND community leaders, found City residents suffered significant constitutional rights violations. Many of the examples cited point out racist, sexist, excessive, and unconscionable policing. The report’s findings warrant the urgent adoption of a substantive, comprehensive agreement identifying corrective police reforms.
This is not the time to point fingers, but to link arms to make our beloved city better and stronger. Our shared obligation to better the community-police relationship cannot be deferred. The commitment to constitutional police reforms must be established now.