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Legislative Black Caucus offers apology, efforts to reform Baltimore police

Del. Curt Anderson.

“After 20, 30, 40 years of this kind of racial, racist activity, it’s going to take time for the police to change,” Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City said Friday in response to the Department of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department’s practices. “But even more than that it’s going to take time for the community to really re-trust the police. But we all here standing before you today are dedicated to make this happen regardless of how long this takes.” (File photo)

With introspection and self-blame, Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus pledged Friday to ensure the success of the U.S. Justice Department’s call for the Baltimore Police Department to end what has been decades of unconstitutional, discriminatory treatment of black city residents in the name of reducing crime.

“Our sincere apologies to the people of Baltimore, because everybody knows that we’re guilty,” Del. Jill P. Carter said at a news conference in front of City Hall.

“If we’re part of the political establishment that allowed these practices, we’re guilty,” added Carter, a Baltimore Democrat and caucus member. “If you’ve been the mayor of Baltimore or a member of the city council or a member of the legislature when all of this was going on, you’re guilty, but now we’re ready to make reparative measures.”

These steps include the continuation of a legislative workgroup that oversees the training, hiring and oversight of police officers, with the goal of preventing discriminatory stops conducted without reasonable suspicion as cited in the Justice Department’s scathing 164-page report released this week, Carter said.

The caucus will press for a “zero tolerance policy for discriminatory policing” and the workgroup will review “all questionable police stops and arrests,” said Carter, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said through a spokesman that he supports the caucus’ reform goals in light of the Justice Department’s report.

In that report, the federal investigators said Baltimore police are trained in aggressive tactics that foster an “us vs. them mentality” toward the community.

The department found that blacks account for 63 percent of the city’s population and roughly 84 percent of all police stops. From 2010 to 2015, officers stopped 34 black residents 20 times, and seven blacks 30 times or more, the report stated.

In addition to pat-downs, Baltimore officers perform unconstitutional public strip searches, even of people not under arrest, the report added. It said officers routinely use unreasonable force, including against juveniles and people who aren’t dangerous.

The direction for these stops often came from the top: In one instance, a police supervisor told a subordinate to “make something up” after the officer protested an order to stop and question a group of young black men for no reason, the report found.

In light of these findings, legislation will be introduced in the next General Assembly session to provide greater protection for police officers who report unconstitutional actions by their colleagues, Carter said. In addition, bills will be introduced to ensure officers found to have acted unconstitutionally or who failed to wear a body camera as directed will be disciplined.

The caucus will also call for the recruitment and hiring of more black applicants for the police force as well as the removal of department’s outdated prohibition on hiring anyone who has smoked marijuana, Carter said.

Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat and caucus member, said the General Assembly took a giant step in police reform last session in calling for the creation of a Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission, which will have substantial civilian membership. Anderson said the commission will help prevent what the Justice Department found to be negligent training by the Baltimore police, which in many instances undid the lessons officers had learned in the police academy.

“All of these changes will take time to sift down through this department,” said Anderson, who also sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

“After 20, 30, 40 years of this kind of racial, racist activity, it’s going to take time for the police to change,” he added. “But even more than that it’s going to take time for the community to really re-trust the police. But we all here standing before you today are dedicated to make this happen regardless of how long this takes.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.