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Attorney General Lynch pushes Baltimore to reach police consent decree

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Posted at 12:29 PM, Dec 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-16 06:18:00-05
 Attorney General Loretta Lynch says it's possible that the Justice Department and the city of Baltimore could reach a deal in the next month to overhaul the city's police practices.
 
She says the "ball is in the city's court" and that she'll return to Baltimore in January for an update on the progress in reaching a court-enforceable consent decree.
 
Baltimore City mayor Catherine Pugh says her team was negotiating for almost eight hours Wednesday. She says so far nine of the 21 points of the consent decree have been negotiated. 
 
"My team was up negotiating today for almost eight hours, so they know what they’re doing, I’m confident in the process," Pugh said. "What I encourage people to do is really to understand the process, especially our council people. Ferguson, which had 50 police officers, I believe, took 14 months. We’ve got to get this right because this is a long range impact on our city residents and I wanted to make sure we get this right."
 
The city and the federal government have been working for months on a plan to improve police practices and procedures following a Justice Department report in August that found pervasive civil rights violations.
 
Though those negotiations can be lengthy, Baltimore and the Justice Department had already reached an agreement in principle.
 
Councilman Brandon Scott wrote a letter to Pugh encouraging her to submit a signed consent decree before President-Elect Trump takes office. 
 
I write this letter as Chairman of the Baltimore City Council's Public Safety Committee on behalf of my colleagues on the City Council to voice my opinion on the importance of having a signed consent decree for the Baltimore Police Department and City of Baltimore before President Elect Trump takes office. As you know, the pending consent decree with the Department of Justice has been one of the most critical items currently facing the City of Baltimore for quite some time. However, the importance of reaching an agreement has become extremely time sensitive in recent weeks. President-Elect Trump's appointment of Senator Jefferson Sessions
threatens to end any hope for true reform through the consent decree. Senator Sessions has a long dark history of racism and sexism that many believe should disqualify him from becoming Attorney General as it did when he was denied the opportunity to become a judge. However, despite these facts it is clear that he will take the reins of the Department of Justice from once Mr. Trump takes office.
 
Baltimore was unified in asking for a Department of Justice investigation and remains unified in demanding reform mandates by way of consent decree. In addition, we agree that there is a clear and critical need for major police reform not only in Baltimore but across the country. However, it would be irresponsible for us to not reach any agreement before the end of Attorney General Loretta Lynch's tenure as Attorney General because of differing opinions around what the most important areas police of reform are.
 
In October 2016, the City Council of Baltimore unanimously passed a resolution detailing what we thought the priorities of the consent decree should be. Those priorities have not changed and are the core issues that need to be addressed in order to have a better Baltimore Police Department. Those priority areas are training and policy reform, increased departmental transparency, civilian oversight, community policing along with technology and officer support investments. Being unable to have an agreement focused on these topics could prove to be
devastating to police reform efforts in Baltimore. The need for these changes has always existed but, they became crystal clear following the unrest in 2015. Our citizens are demanding it of us and it is our duty to deliver it to them. By way of this letter I am asking that you do all in your power to ensure that there is a responsible Department of Justice consent decree in place before the new presidential administration takes office. I truly believe that it is your intention to achieve this goal and I offer our support in any way that I can. Moreover, I am requesting a meeting with you and the members of the Public Safety Committee to discuss this matter.
Pugh responded to Scott's concerns Thursday, saying she looks forward to continuing her work with Lynch.
 
"When we get that consent decree, when it's laying on my desk, I'm so ready to sign it," she said. "I had the conversation with Loretta Lynch and I know that they're encouraging us to get it done and we're encouraged by their encouragement."
 
**The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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