The first consent decree-mandated policy changes are in practice on the streets of Baltimore this week, nearly three years after the city and federal government agreed to a lengthy reform process.
The Baltimore Police Department announced Tuesday that a group of policies addressing use of force by officers went “live” on Sunday. The policies address de-escalation, pursuits, use of pepper spray and batons and other issues related to force, including reporting.
“In my opinion, and based on my experience, these new policies will go a long way towards helping us rebuild our relationship with the community and, for that reason, their importance cannot be overstated,” Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a statement.
The revised policies emphasize using force only when “necessary, reasonable and proportional,” according to the police department, which said personnel had received training on relevant topics. Police “must at all times comply with the minimum legal requirements” when using force but must also comply with “even stricter standards” outlined in department policy, the announcement said.
The new use-of-force and de-escalation policies emphasize that police “shall make every effort to preserve human life in all situations” and affirm that all people “have equal value and worth.”
Police are prohibited from using retaliatory force against people engaged in First Amendment-protected activities or to punish people fleeing or resisting arrest, according to the policies. Police are required to report any use of force they observe or in which they are involved.
The city, police and U.S. Department of Justice entered into a consent decree in January 2017 following a lengthy DOJ investigation that found unconstitutional policing practices in the city. Investigators concluded that officers routinely used unreasonable and excessive force.
The 227-page consent decree outlines an overhaul of policies and procedures from use of force to stops and arrests to interactions with victims of sexual assault.