Judge denies DOJ request, approves Baltimore police reforms

A federal judge in Maryland approved an Obama era consent decree Friday mandating police reforms in Baltimore, just days after the Department of Justice asked for more time to review it.

The decree, which came after a rigorous Civil Rights investigation into Baltimore Police Department practices, and was signed in the waning days of President Obama’s administration, is effective immediately.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, an Obama appointee, had final approval on the decree, and he gave the Justice Department and Baltimore officials two weeks to hammer out a timeline for implementation.

The process is expected to cost Baltimore $30 million to implement. Reforms would reboot BPD’s civilian oversight, adopt a community-oriented policing approach, see to it that officers use de-escalation techniques and proper use of force, and ensure full and fair investigations into allegations of employee misconduct, among other efforts.

Early last week, Justice Department officials asked Bredar to delay his ruling. “The United States seeks this extension of time to assess whether and how the provisions of the proposed consent decree interact with the directives of the President and Attorney General,” Justice Department attorneys said in a motion filed April 3.

Four days later, Bredar said in his order that the government’s request for additional time “can best be interpreted as a request for an additional opportunity to consider whether it wants the Court to enter the decree at all, or at least the current version of it.”

“The time for negotiating the agreement is over,” he said. “The problems that necessitate this consent decree are urgent. The parties have agreed on a detailed and reasonable approach to solving them. Now, it is time to enter the decree and thereby require all involved to get to work on repairing the many fractures so poignantly revealed by the record.”

In a press release Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an outspoken critic of consent decrees, expressed concern over the agreement, calling some of the reforms “ill advised.”

“While the Department of Justice continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore, I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city,” wrote Sessions. “The citizens of Baltimore deserve to see a real and lasting reduction in the fast-rising violent crime threatening their city.”