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Here’s how to comment on the Baltimore consent decree

In this March 31, 2016, file photo, Baltimore Police Department Officer Jordan Distance stands on a street corner during a foot patrol in Baltimore. Baltimore police officers routinely discriminate against blacks, repeatedly use excessive force and are not adequately held accountable for misconduct, according to a harshly critical Justice Department report being presented Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

A federal judge will accept written public comment in the coming weeks on the proposed consent decree for the Baltimore Police Department and announced plans for a day-long hearing in April for people to speak to the court.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar issued an order Wednesday soliciting public comment as well as outlining the rules for public participation.

“The law does not require a hearing, but the Court agrees a hearing in this case is in the interest of justice,” Bredar wrote.

Written comments may be submitted by hand or mail to the U.S. Department of Justice or via email. Documents cannot be more than 10 pages long and must include the author’s full name but omit their address because the submissions will be made public.

Written comments must be received by March 7 and submitted to the court by the parties March 14 to be published on the court’s website.

A public hearing on the consent decree will be held April 6 from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone wishing to speak must sign up at 9 a.m.; individuals will be allotted three minutes each to address the court in the order they signed up. The hearing will conclude at 5 p.m. regardless of whether everyone who signed up has spoken.

The consent decree, which outlines reforms for the police department, is before Bredar for final approval. At a hearing earlier this month, Bredar agreed to accept public comment at the request of both parties but questioned the court’s ability to consider public input.

“I’m all in favor of transparency and substantial interaction with the public… but what’s their standing to be heard?” he asked.

A Justice Department representative replied that while the public has no standing, in cities where there is a lot of public focus on police reform, interested parties will seek to be heard by contacting the court and requesting an opportunity to input. He recommended coming up with a formal process to allow people and groups to be heard.


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