BALTIMORE (AP) — The Trump administration has “grave concerns” about an agreement the Obama administration reached with the city of Baltimore to overhaul its police department, an attorney told a federal judge Thursday.
Justice Department attorney John Gore said Attorney General Jeff Sessions is worried about “whether it will achieve the goals of public safety and law enforcement while at the same time protecting civil rights.” Gore said there has been a spike in crime in Baltimore and the administration wants to make sure that the court-enforceable agreement, known as a consent decree, “will help rather than hinder public safety.”
The agreement was the product of a investigation of the Baltimore Police Department following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken in a police transport wagon. Last year, the Justice Department published a scathing report outlining widespread abuse including excessive force, unlawful stops and discriminatory practices.
Baltimore solicitor David Ralph said that when the city, police department and federal government negotiated the plan, it was designed to fight crime, protect civil rights and repair community trust with officers. The agreement was reached during the final days of the Obama administration. The plan discourages officers from writing up minor offenses such as loitering and bars police from arresting people simply because they are in high-crime areas.
It also calls for more training for officers on handling mentally ill people, and the continuation of a program that is rolling out body-worn cameras to all officers.
U.S. District Judge James Bredar must sign off on the agreement and then make sure the parties follow it. The judge held a hearing Thursday to gather public comment on the plan, and residents overwhelmingly voiced support. The Justice Department wants the judge to delay signing the agreement.
Isaac Wilson, a black high school student, said he carries the burden of discrimination and the agreement is badly needed in the city.
“The closest thing I’ve seen to justice is this consent decree,” he said.
The judge also heard from mothers whose sons were killed by police.
“Please move forward on this. We are tired of burying our children,” activist Prudence Johnson said.
The Justice Department wanted to postpone the hearing, but that was met with fierce opposition from city officials, including Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. They both vowed that they will press on with police reform regardless of what happens with the consent decree.
But Davis and Pugh stressed that a court-enforceable agreement will enable the department to implement those reforms.