Faster po­lice re­form urged

Pick up the pace, law­mak­ers tell city, Jus­tice Department

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By John Fritze

WASH­ING­TON — Six Democrats in Maryland’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion have called on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and Bal­ti­more of­fi­cials to speed up their ne­go­ti­a­tions on over­haul­ing po­lice prac­tices in the city, cit­ing “grow­ing con­cern from the community” about the pace of the talks.

In a let­ter to U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch and Bal­ti­more of­fi­cials that was made pub­lic on Tues­day, the law­mak­ers ques­tioned what they de­scribed as a de­lay in the ef­fort to ad­dress the wide­spread civil rights vi­o­la­tions by city po­lice al­leged by the U.S. Department of Jus­tice.

Left un­men­tioned in the let­ter was the rea­son Democrats are con­cerned about tim­ing: Many are un­cer­tain whether Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump will con­tinue to ap­ply pres­sure on the city when he moves into the White House early next year.

Since the Jus­tice Department re­leased its scathing re­port in Au­gust, city and fed­eral of­fi­cials have been ne­go­ti­at­ing a cour­tordered agree­ment that is ex­pected to man­date ma­jor changes to the Po­lice Department and the way it serves the city. The sta­tus of those de­lib­er­a­tions re­mains shrouded in se­crecy.

Rep. Eli­jah E. Cum­mings, speak­ing at a Rawl­ings-Blake

news con­fer­ence Tues­day, noted a sense of un­ease from con­stituents that the agree­ment might not be fin­ished by Jan. 20, when Trump is to be sworn in.

“We can look back at past Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions where, when it came to the…Civil Rights [Divi­sion] of [the] Jus­tice [Department], ba­si­cally they were torn apart,” the Bal­ti­more Demo­crat said. “If [the agree­ment] is not forth­com­ing, we want to know why and when we can ex­pect it.”

Nei­ther city nor fed­eral of­fi­cials would com­mit Tues­day to fin­ish­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions by the inau­gu­ra­tion.

Mem­bers of Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ingsBlake’s ad­min­is­tra­tion said Tues­day they were sur­prised by the let­ter and in­sisted they were work­ing ag­gres­sively to wrap up ne­go­ti­a­tions. Still, they de­clined to of­fer de­tails about how close they are to an­nounc­ing an agree­ment.

In a let­ter Tues­day re­spond­ing to the fed­eral law­mak­ers, Rawl­ings-Blake wrote that it is “ex­tremely un­likely” a deal would be struck be­fore her suc­ces­sor, Mayor-elect Cather­ine Pugh, is sworn into of­fice on Dec. 6.

In­terim City Solic­i­tor David Ralph, a mem­ber of the city’s ne­go­ti­at­ing team, said, “We’ve been work­ing at a pace that’s faster than of any other ju­ris­dic­tion. We have been work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively with the De­part- ment of Jus­tice all along.”

Ralph pointed to ne­go­ti­a­tions in Seattle, Mi­ami, Fer­gu­son, Mo., and other cities that stretched out for months.

Bal­ti­more of­fi­cials said they did not yet have a com­plete draft of an agree­ment from the Jus­tice Department, which they de­scribed as nor­mal, given the com­plex­ity of the is­sues in­volved. “You’re talk­ing about a ma­jor doc­u­ment that will have last­ing con­se­quences on the city for a sub­stan­tial pe­riod of time,” Ralph said.

A Jus­tice Department spokesman con­firmed that of­fi­cials had re­ceived the law­mak­ers’ let­ter Tues­day, but de­clined to com­ment about the sta­tus of the talks.

The let­ter to Lynch, Rawl­ings-Blake and Pugh was signed by Sens. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski and Ben Cardin, Reps. Cum­mings, C.A. Dutch Rup­pers­berger and John Sar­banes — all of whom rep­re­sent por­tions of the city — as well as Sen­a­tor-elect Chris Van Hollen of Mont­gomery County.

The let­ter was highly un­usual. Maryland’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion had stayed mum about the ne­go­ti­a­tions since they be­gan this sum­mer. It was not clear whether the let­ter was di­rected specif­i­cally to any of the par­ties in­volved in the talks.

But the law­mak­ers did point to a missed ini­tial goal to finish the work by Nov. 1 — a goal city of­fi­cials later de­scribed as “as­pi­ra­tional.”

Asked Tues­day why they set an ini­tial goal they could not meet, city of­fi­cials said they be­lieved they needed to have an agree­ment in hand by early Novem­ber in order to finish the con­sent de­cree be­fore Rawl­ings-Blake left of­fice. Ralph said the city would not set a new goal be­cause the com­plex­ity of the ne­go­ti­a­tions made it dif­fi­cult to es­ti­mate the time­line.

The law­mak­ers re­quested an up­date on the sta­tus of ne­go­ti­a­tions and an up­dated time­line for com­ple­tion. “We ap­pre­ci­ate that it is no small task to en­sure the de­cree fully ad­dresses the DOJ rec­om­men­da­tions and in­cludes work­able im­ple­men­ta­tion steps,” they wrote. “How­ever, we are hear­ing grow­ing con­cern from the community about the sta­tus of and de­lay in draft­ing the de­cree. We share those con­cerns.

“It is ab­so­lutely im­per­a­tive that de­ci­sive, steady, ur­gent progress to­ward craft­ing a mean­ing­ful con­sent de­cree be made a top pri­or­ity by all in­volved.”

The Jus­tice Department launched its in­ves­ti­ga­tion of city polic­ing af­ter the death of Fred­die Gray of se­vere in­juries suf­fered in po­lice cus­tody.

Un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, the Jus­tice Department stepped up the use of court-en­forced or­ders af­ter find­ings civil rights abuses by po­lice.

Of­fi­cials ini­ti­ated sim­i­lar in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, but were more likely to rely on in­for­mal agree­ments to ad­dress sys­temic prob­lems.

Trump has of­fered lit­tle in­sight into which ap­proach he will take. The New York busi­ness­man cast him­self as a “law and order” can­di­date dur­ing his cam­paign, and pro­moted more ag­gres­sive polic­ing.

Trump has said he will nom­i­nate Repub­li­can Sen. Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama as his at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Nei­ther Ses­sions nor of­fi­cials with Trump’s tran­si­tion re­sponded to a re­quest for com­ment Tues­day on the Bal­ti­more ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Pugh, who will in­herit the ne­go­ti­a­tions that could de­fine her first months in of­fice, de­clined to com­ment through a spokesman. She has said she is not as con­cerned about the tim­ing of an agree­ment as she is about how the city will pay for the an­tic­i­pated re­forms.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the sig­nif­i­cant time and en­ergy re­quired to pre­pare for the tran­si­tion of a may­oral ad­min­is­tra­tion, but it is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary that the con­sent de­cree be a top pri­or­ity for all at this cru­cial time,” the law­mak­ers wrote. “The safety of our community is at stake.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.