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Baltimore consent decree advocates say transparency still necessary

Heather Cobun//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//March 17, 2017

Baltimore consent decree advocates say transparency still necessary

By Heather Cobun

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//March 17, 2017

1.12.2017 BALTIMORE, MD- Mayor Catherine E. Pugh joined by U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch to announce agreement on the Department of Justice Consent Decree concerning practices by the Baltimore Police Department. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)
(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

A dozen community groups and 35 individuals submitted written testimony to a federal judge on the Baltimore Police Department consent decree, the majority of which expressed support and a desire for transparency throughout the process.

The written comments, which were complied and made available in online court records Tuesday, emphasized the community’s desire for transparency and involvement in the consent decree process, from having input on the selection of a monitor to opening the process for selecting members of a Community Oversight Task Force.

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender also pushed for transparency, particularly related to officer misconduct in cases. Baltimore’s office has complained of routine discovery issues.

“We uniformly face opposition from Assistant State’s Attorneys on motions for in camera review of (internal affairs) files and demands for discovery are heavily litigated,” representatives alleged in their submission.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar issued an order soliciting public comment last month and outlined the rules for public participation, either written or oral.

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 full text of letters to the court can be viewed below.

Selected excerpts from advocacy groups:

  • ACLU of Maryland: “There is already a huge trust gap between significant parts of Baltimore’s population and the police, as documented in the findings letter, which has significant negative effects on public safety. The Monitor will himself or herself likely also face a similar trust gap (which existed even with respect to the DOJ), and directly involving community-based organizations as subcontractors and surrogates in the monitoring process will be critical to ensuring that the Monitor will be able to overcome that mistrust and get accurate and complete information from all of Baltimore’s communities.”
  • Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs: “If the path forward is to be effective, we think it is imperative that community members be actively involved in every level of reforming and overseeing their own police department.”
  • Disability Rights Maryland: “The proposed Consent Decree offers hope for systemic reform that will result in policing that complies with our Constitution and federal civil rights laws. Significantly, for our community, if the potential of the Decree is realized, there will be a decrease in the numbers of individuals with disabilities being involved with BCPD and an increase in the numbers of individuals with disabilities offered community based supports.”
  • Jews United for Justice: “The proposed consent decree requires the DOJ and the City to create a 5-member Community Oversight Task Force that would make recommendations for improving the current system of civilian oversight of police. In order for the Community Oversight Task Force to be as effective as possible and lift up the voices of those communities that are disproportionately and negatively impacted by existing police structures and policies, we recommend that the parties and court consider a more inclusive selection process for Task Force members.”
  • Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle: “The details of the DOJ’s findings report reveals just how far we are from making accountability a reality.”
  • NAACP Legal Defense Fund: “Overall, the proposed consent decree contains many promising provisions that, if followed, will eliminate racially-discriminatory stops, arrests and searches and the use of excessive or lethal force by Baltimore police officers. Provisions in the consent decree also seek to improve the process for collecting and investigating misconduct and create a system for the timely investigation and fair discipline of officers who engage in misconduct.”

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