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Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
"We want to attract developers like Cross Street Partners and City Life Builders who have a vision and passion for building on the City’s strengths," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Justice Dept., city officials outline probe

The U.S. Justice Department officially announced Monday it would be investigating the Baltimore Police Department in the wake of the city paying millions of dollars in police brutality lawsuits in recent years.

The review of police training, tactics and policies will be done by the federal agency’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services with the voluntary cooperation with Baltimore police. The Justice Department will announce when a team is in place to begin the investigation, which will take an estimated six-to-eight months, according to Caron Brace, a spokeswoman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. The monitoring phase could last for an additional two years.

Rawlings-Blake and police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts requested the so-called collaborative reform initiative earlier this month.

“We welcome it to the city and are excited to collaborate and develop best practices,” Brace said.

The city has paid more than $21 million to settle police brutality lawsuits since 2004. A majority of the settlements are for less than $25,000, meaning they do not need approval from the Board of Estimates, the five-member panel that must approve city spending.

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who regularly votes against the settlements as president of the Board of Estimates, is “encouraged” federal officials are looking at city police but is taking a “wait-and-see approach” to the investigation, according his spokesman.

“He will do everything in his power to make sure the most comes out of this review,” said Lester Davis.

An involuntary civil rights investigation by the Justice Department is still a possibility, according to Brace, if serious problems are found. But the so-called collaborative review of the police department is “a means to an organizational transformation,” Ronald L. Davis, the director of the COPS office, wrote in a final report on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department issued in May.

Davis also attended Monday’s news conference at the U.S. attorney’s office in Baltimore, along with Rawlings Blake, Batts, and U.S. Attorney for Maryland.

The COPS office began investigating Las Vegas police in January 2012, focusing on officers’ use of deadly force practices. The investigation in Las Vegas lasted 11 months, with investigators observing police, reviewing documents and interviewing civilians, among other assessments. Of the 80 reforms recommended in the review, 90 percent had been implemented as of May 2014, according to the final report

The collaborative review “is not a short-term solution for a serious deficiency, but a long-term strategy that identifies the issues within an agency that affect public trust and offers recommendations on how to improve the issue and enhance the relationship between the police and the community,” Davis wrote.