Justice Department and Baltimore Reach Consent Decree on Reforming City's Police Department

The police reforms were negotiated between the city and the federal government.

ByABC News
January 12, 2017, 1:29 PM

— -- After months of negotiation, the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore have reached an agreement on a consent decree that mandates reforms of the city's police department, federal and city officials announced today.

"In Baltimore, in many ways, this is a great day," Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said during a joint news conference with federal officials. "There is much more to be done."

The court-enforceable, independently monitored consent decree was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and will be reviewed by a judge. Under the consent decree, if approved by the judge, the city of Baltimore and the Baltimore Police Department will implement comprehensive reforms, including how its officers conduct stops and interact with people in the city.

The consent decree calls for the city, within 90 days of the effective date of the agreement, to establish a Community Oversight Task Force to recommend reforms to the current system of civilian oversight.

"The future of Baltimore belongs to the people of this great city," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at the news conference. "Through this agreement, we are moving forward together to work to heal tension and the relationship between BPD and the community."

The requirements of the consent decree, according to the Justice Department, focus on "building community trust, creating a culture of community and problem-oriented policing, prohibiting unlawful stops and arrests, preventing discriminatory policing and excessive force, ensuring public and officer safety, enhancing officer accountability and making needed technological upgrades."

An independent monitor jointly recommended to the court by both parties will assess whether the reforms are being implemented and will report publicly on the Baltimore Police Department's efforts on a regular basis. The monitor has yet to be announced.

Officials said the Baltimore Police Department has already made meaningful changes and the reforms outlined in the consent decree will build on this progress, centered on more training and better technology.

"I firmly believe that when focused, measurable and detailed reforms are implemented effectively, they restore community trust and advance officer and public safety," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division.

The agreement comes nearly two years after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, was killed in Baltimore police custody. Six police officers were charged in connection to the arrest and death of Gray, who suffered a serious spinal injury while in the back of a police van in April 2015. Of the six officers, three were found not guilty. The charges were then dropped against the three remaining officers awaiting trial.

The incident prompted the Justice Department to open a formal investigation of the Baltimore Police Department's patterns and practices.

In a report released in August, the Justice Department concluded that the city's police department engaged in a "pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution and federal anti-discrimination law."

The report identified a litany of widespread and systematic problems in Baltimore policing, including "making unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests and using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African-Americans ... using excessive force and retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally protected expression."

The federal investigation, which reviewed the conduct of the Baltimore Police Department's officers going back to 2010, found that Baltimore's black residents suffered unfairly under a zero tolerance policing philosophy that routinely uses "overly aggressive tactics that unnecessarily escalate encounters."

The report also stated that "African-Americans accounted for 86 percent of all criminal offenses charged by BPD officers, despite making up only 63 percent of Baltimore residents."

ABC News' Jack Cloherty and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.