Patrick Woolley is an experienced criminal and DUI defense attorney in Virginia, practicing primarily in Fairfax, Prince William, Fauquier, and Culpeper Counties.
Following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in Baltimore Police custody in 2015, it seems that federal and local authorities have begun to heed the call for the fight against police brutality.
Outside groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and the NAACP have assisted the city of Baltimore in creating the biggest overhaul of its use-of-force policy since 2003, which emphasizes de-escalation and hopes to preserve the “sanctity of life.”
The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) claims the policy will help to create a proportional response when force is necessary and also “prevent the use of excessive force” by another police officer – a policy in which officers will hold one another accountable for the actions of force that they take.
The policy reform comes just before the scheduled release of a U.S. Department of Justice probe into the BPD’s patterns and practices. The death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray due to spinal injuries sustained after officers placed him into a prisoner transport van prompted the Department of Justice’s investigation of the BPD rules regarding use of force.
When protests began, BPD started an investigation of their own, charging six police officers in Gray’s death. So far, three have gone to trial, two have ended in acquittals, and one was a mistrial.
Accountability had clearly become an issue, and the amended use-of-force policy seems to be an important step in acknowledging that a problem exists.
As far as the policy actually addressing the issue, the Maryland chapter of the ACLU has commended BPD for making progress to end police brutality and excessive use of force.
However, ACLU senior staff attorney David Rocah claims the policy still has a long way to go, stating the problem lies “within the gap between the department’s good intention and actual documented policy,” making it difficult to enforce.
One glaring weakness in the new policy is that officers will still not be required to fill out a report when deadly force is used in an encounter, exacerbating enforcement and accountability issues.
Overall, the policy seems to be receiving good marks. Protests over the Freddie Gray incident have clearly led to positive reform efforts by the BPD.
The next step in the process, the pending release of the Department of Justice investigation, will hopefully outline an even clearer picture of the current situation regarding police brutality in Baltimore and how the problem can be fixed for the future.