City and federal officials and attorneys are hard at work drawing up the finalized required reforms for the Baltimore Police Department before Donald Trump’s administration moves into Washington D.C.
At the federal level, Department of Justice attorneys from the Obama administration are reportedly trying to speed up negotiations in Baltimore with just 10 days left before Trump takes over. The President-elect has indicated he’s no fan of interfering with police at the local level, but it’s his pick for attorney general that has some worried. The New York Times noted Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who’s undergoing his Senate confirmation hearing for the AG spot today, has called consent decrees “dangerous” and a “run around the democratic process” in the past.
According to the Times, federal officials believe the agreement being negotiated by DOJ and city attorneys could be ready as soon as this week. Here in Baltimore, Mayor Pugh told the Sun her administration’s goal is to be done this week and said they’re nearly at the “finish line.”
Both parties have been hashing out the terms of the agreement since August when federal investigators released their damning report on the Baltimore Police Department. The original early November deadline, set by both parties, came and went with little more than an acknowledgment of the missed mark from former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
While Mayor Pugh has stuck her neck out to make nice with Trump from the very beginning, many are worried his administration might not fully grasp the issue’s importance to many Baltimoreans. Recently elected City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett told the Times he sees Sessions’ background as “very questionable when it comes to how he sees people of color in a city like Baltimore” and that a “much different tone” may come from his DOJ for police accountability investigations.
City lawmakers are seeking a chance to review the agreement before both parties sign it. Councilman Brandon Scott had planned to introduce a resolution in City Council to allow all of the body’s members to read through the consent decree before it’s made final.
“The City Council will be both financially and politically responsible for the contents of the agreement despite not being involved in the process at all,” Scott wrote on Facebook on Friday. “Agreeing to the contents of the consent decree without providing all of those who will be held responsible the opportunity to review it would be very irresponsible.”
Mayor Pugh reportedly agreed to let the council review the consent decree yesterday before Scott proposed his resolution, which led the councilman to withdraw his formal proposal. (The Mayor’s Office hasn’t responded to a request for comment.)
As others watch the clock tick, the Baltimore Police Department is continuing to implement its own reforms while grappling with a tide of violence around the city and a shortage of officers. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said last week that police plan to ramp up neighborhood patrol assignments to improve community policing, a major issued outlined in the DOJ’s investigative report.
Baltimore isn’t alone in dealing with an invisible countdown. Federal investigators are currently conducting a similar investigation into the Chicago Police Department. The findings will likely be released before Inauguration Day, though the city will then have to work out its consent decree for police in the exact situation Baltimore wants to avoid.
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