Con­sent de­cree lim­its won’t af­fect city

Mon­i­tor: Ses­sions’ memo doesn’t over­ride court or­der

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Christina Tkacik ctkacik@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/xti­natkacik

The head of Bal­ti­more’s con­sent de­cree mon­i­tor­ing team said a memo is­sued by Jeff Ses­sions just be­fore he was ousted as at­tor­ney gen­eral will have no ef­fect on the fed­eral de­cree order­ing civil rights re­forms at the city’s Po­lice Depart­ment.

Ken­neth Thomp­son, the court-ap­pointed mon­i­tor, said there’s al­ready a court or­der in place in Bal­ti­more and that Jus­tice Depart­ment pol­icy doesn’t ap­ply to the courts.

“It’s all prospec­tive,” Thomp­son said Fri­day. “We have a court or­der that’s in place. It has no ef­fect on what we’re do­ing.”

The Ses­sions memo does ap­pear to cur­tail the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s abil­ity to im­ple­ment and en­force con­sent de­crees in the fu­ture.

Ses­sions had pre­vi­ously crit­i­cized the civil rights de­cree de­signed to re­form the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment, say­ing it was linked to ris­ing crime. He called the city “one of the most tragic ex­am­ples” of how such agree­ments im­pose re­stric­tions on po­lice of­fi­cers.

The city’s con­sent de­cree fol­lowed a lengthy in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Jus­tice Depart­ment dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that found Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cers en­gaged in wide­spread un­con­sti­tu­tional and dis­crim­i­na­tory polic­ing. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched af­ter Fred­die Gray, a 25-year-old black man from West Bal­ti­more, died from in­juries suf­fered in po­lice cus­tody.

“State gov­ern­ments are sov­er­eigns with spe­cial and pro­tected roles un­der our con­sti­tu­tional or­der,” Ses­sions stated in the memo, dated Wed­nes­day. The doc­u­ment is de­signed to give state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments more power in ne­go­ti­at­ing the agree­ments.

Un­der the new guide­lines, re­leased by the Jus­tice Depart­ment on Thurs­day, con­sent de­crees must get ap­proval from se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment lead­er­ship, must last no more than three years and must have a “sun­set” pro­vi­sion that ter­mi­nates the de­cree once the de­fen­dant demon­strates com­pli­ance with fed­eral law. The use of mon­i­tors like Thomp­son, an at­tor­ney at law firm Ven­able, would be lim­ited.

Lawyers for the Jus­tice Depart­ment sought to de­lay the fi­nal­iza­tion of the city’s con­sent de­cree shortly af­ter Ses­sions took over. But U.S. Dis­trict Judge James Bredar ap­proved the de­cree in April 2017 de­spite their op­po­si­tion.

Bal­ti­more’s con­sent de­cree im­poses sig­nif­i­cant re­stric­tions on how of­fi­cers can in­ter­act with in­di­vid­u­als on the street, in­clud­ing in stops and searches, and or­ders more train­ing in de-es­ca­la­tion tac­tics and in­ter­ac­tions with spe­cific groups, in­clud­ing youths and peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness. It calls for in­creased su­per­vi­sion of of­fi­cers, en­hanced civil­ian over­sight of the depart­ment, and more trans­parency. It re­quires new in­vest­ments in tech­nol­ogy and equip­ment.

Bredar, in his or­der ap­prov­ing the con­sent de­cree last year, called the Jus­tice Depart­ment's in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Po­lice Depart­ment “deeply trou­bling.”

“The prob­lems that ne­ces­si­tate this con­sent de­cree are ur­gent,” he wrote. “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.”

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