One of Loretta Lynch’s first actions as U.S. attorney general was to come to Baltimore during the unrest that followed Freddie Gray’s Death, so it’s only fitting that she’ll spend one of her final days in office here as well.
Lynch is slated to speak at the University of Baltimore’s John and Frances Angelos Law Center on Thursday at 4 p.m. According to the university, Lynch will “deliver a capstone speech on community policing” in the school’s mock courtroom.
It’s always big news when the country’s top prosecutor comes to town, but it holds far more weight when her visit happens as officials are itching to finalize a consent decree for the city’s police department.
The clock is ticking for the federal and city attorneys negotiating the final terms of that agreement. In nine days, Sen. Jeff Sessions will take over for Lynch as attorney general under President-elect Trump’s administration. Many are worried he won’t view the issue of police reform in the same light as Eric Holder and Lynch did during under President Obama’s administration.
Sessions essentially confirmed those worries during his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday. The Alabama senator wasn’t exactly supportive about the use of consent decrees to reform agencies. He said it is “a difficult thing for a city to be sued by the Department of Justice and to be told that your police department is systematically failing to serve the people of the state or the city,” according to Talking Points Memo. He later added that police “often feel forced to agree to a consent decree just to remove that stigma and sometimes there are difficulties there.”
Lynch helped to fuel the sense of urgency over the consent decree last month during a recorded chat with Politico, saying “the ball is in the city’s court” on the negotiations. She also said she’d be coming to Baltimore this month to provide updates “and hopefully an announcement on those efforts.”
Unless it’s a shockingly weak court order, the finalized consent decree will require the Baltimore Police Department to fix the most pressing issues that DOJ investigators identified in their their 163-page findings report on the department released last August. Those issues included discriminatory policing strategies, targeting of black neighborhoods, use of unconstitutional searches and seizures, persistent violations of First Amendment rights, use of excessive force and poor handling of sexual assault cases.
Police have already started working to fix some of those problems before getting their court order. One good example is use of force, for which the department modified its departmental policy in 2016. BPD spokesman T.J. Smith said that helped reduce complaints about excessive force for that year. To show attention to the issue of handling sexual assault cases, police also dedicated a specially designed interviewing room for survivors in the Central District headquarters last year.
But in order to get all of those reforms written in stone, Baltimoreans are counting on a thorough and complete consent decree. That’ll likely only happen if it’s drawn up and signed before Sessions takes office.
The timing is just right for the announcement. Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis have both indicated that the consent decree could be finished this week, according to the Sun’s Kevin Rector. What better way for Lynch to end her tenure as head of the DOJ than by making this announcement in the same city that brimmed with outrage toward police during her first days on the job in April 2015?
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