Baltimore Police Oversight Now ‘Wears a Black Robe’

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Baltimore has seen police reform plans before, but nothing like the scrutiny that a new court-ordered monitor will bring, the Baltimore Sun reports. If the consent decree negotiated by the city and the Justice Department is approved by U.S. District Judge James Bredar, a team of attorneys, police veterans, and tech-savvy professionals will flood police headquarters and district stations to keep close tabs on how the agency is working to eliminate racially biased policing and excessive force. “It is an invasive process,” said Baltimore attorney Chad Curlett, who served on a monitoring team in Detroit. “You’ll have people on the ground, out with clipboards at the districts and inspecting the equipment and talking to people.” Unlike past plans that were subject to the whims of police leadership or City Hall, former city police commander Timothy Longo said, oversight now “wears a black robe and has a lifetime appointment.”

University of Nebraska criminologist Samuel Walker, who has studied police consent decrees, said Baltimore has already implemented more of the recommended reforms than other cities in a similar position. Then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake invited DOJ to review the department in 2014 after the Sun reported that the city had paid millions of dollars to settle more than 100 civil suits alleging police brutality and other misconduct. The federal agency expanded that review into a full-scale civil rights investigation after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. “Unlike any of the other consent decrees, Baltimore has a head start,” Walker said. “They can build on that. The monitor can provide assistance and encouragement, but it doesn’t have to teach them the ABCs.”

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