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DOJ Consent decree with BPD is comprehensive and thorough but slowly yields results

Posted at 7:34 PM, Oct 25, 2021

BALTIMORE — Ahead of the final BPD consent decree hearing this year, a former deputy commissioner weighs in on the process of getting the department in compliance with the Department of Justice.

In 2017, the Department of Justice found reasons to believe BPD was engaging in unconstitutional patterns and practices, BPD and the DOJ entered a consent decree in an effort to implement changes enforceable by court.

Former deputy Baltimore Police Commissioner Jason Johnson was at the table for those negotiations more than four years ago, yet he says the department is still in the early phases.

"In the very beginning the very first step is to start developing policies that comport with what is required under the consent decree," he said.

That's where Johnson says BPD is so far, calling progress from creating and implementing new policies. A slow moving process.

"You involve community input, at multiple levels and there's a lot of back and forth between the Department of Justice and the monitor and BPD and it is a slow process then you have to train people and that's extremely difficult in the environment BPD's in now being understaffed."

Staffing is one of the items addressed in the consent decree ordering the department to conduct a study to ensure it has a sufficient number of officers and supervisors.

As well as terms addressing police-community interactions, implementing use of appropriate de-escalation techniques, and improving investigations into sexual assaults without biases.

A list Johnson predicts will take the city's police force years to work through. A pattern he's noticed in other places under consent decrees like Seattle, New Orleans and Chicago.

"They're barely achievable. Most of the cities that have consent decrees are in them for decades and it takes a very long time before the community even sees any improvement," he said.

Johnson argues the demands outlined in the agreement take the focus off addressing the city's most pressing issue...violent crime.

"It is distracting to the organization to be involved in a consent decree and frankly some of the policies that they've been required to adopt really run counter to what I think the department needs to do to reduce crime," he said.

Adding the consent, in some ways hand cuffs officers placing tight restrictions on tactics Johnson feels could improve the department's fight against crime.

Like proactive policing, confronting those believed to be involved in criminal activity.

Tuesdays hearing will give us a look at the progress BPD is making according to a monitoring team who's responsible for reporting their findings to a judge. Then we'll have a better idea of just how close the department is getting to full compliance.