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After Freddie Gray Death, U.S. Starts Civil Rights Probe Of Baltimore Police

By Mark Puente, The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

In the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Friday that the Department of Justice will launch a full-scale civil rights investigation into Baltimore’s police.

“This investigation will begin immediately,” Lynch said, adding that investigators will examine whether police violated the constitutional rights of residents.

The decision comes after local officials and community leaders pressed the Justice Department to launch an inquiry similar to investigations into police departments in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland that examined whether officers engaged in patterns of excessive force. In both of those cities, unrest erupted after unarmed black people were killed by police.

“Our goal is to work with the community, public officials, and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore,” Lynch said. “The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has conducted dozens of these pattern or practice investigations, and we have seen from our work in jurisdictions across the country that communities that have gone through this process are experiencing improved policing practices and increased trust between the police and the community.”

Lynch visited Baltimore on Tuesday and met the family of Gray, the man who died April 19 of a severed spine and other injuries sustained while in police custody. She also met privately with Baltimore’s mayor and police commissioner as part of a five-hour trip.

The announcement comes seven months after a Baltimore Sun investigation found that the city had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 in court judgments and settlements in lawsuits alleging brutality and other misconduct. The Sun also found that dozens of black residents received battered faces and broken bones during questionable arrests. In nearly all of the cases, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the suspects.

While in Baltimore, Lynch said the Justice Department might need to go beyond the voluntary, collaborative review of use of force by city police that began in October. That review was announced five days after The Sun published its first of two stories into police abuses.

On Friday, Lynch said the collaborative review will not be enough to bring the community and police force together.

She said the collaborative review started by the Justice Department in the fall will continue as technical assistance to help the department. No report of those findings will be released as it will be folded into the civil rights investigation, she added.

The tougher civil rights probes examine whether police departments have a history of discrimination or using force beyond standard guidelines, and can lead to years of court monitoring.

In such investigations, Justice Department officials gather information from community members, interview officers and other local authorities, and observe officers’ work and review documents. But they do not assess individual cases for potential criminal violations.

The Justice Department said the new probe is separate from the agency’s criminal civil rights investigation into Gray’s death.

The federal agency’s civil rights division has launched such broad probes into 20 police departments in the past six years. They examine excessive force, discriminatory harassment, false arrests and unlawful stops, searches or arrests.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski were among those urging Lynch to launch an investigation. Other Democratic lawmakers from Maryland sent a letter to Lynch this week expressing support for a review.

After Lynch’s announcement Friday, Rawlings-Blake issued a statement saying she was “pleased the Department of Justice has agreed to my request.”

“Our city is making progress in repairing the fractured relationship between police and community, but bolder reforms are needed and we will not shy away from taking on these challenges,” Rawlings-Blake said. “The problems we are confronting in Baltimore are not unique to our city. They did not occur overnight and it will take time for Baltimore to heal and move forward.”

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, clergy and other activists had called for a civil rights probe since October. But Rawlings-Blake and police union leaders dismissed the requests until Wednesday.

Young called the announcement of the federal probe “a watershed moment” for Baltimore.

(c)2015 The Baltimore Sun, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Ted Van Pelt via Flickr

U.S. Dept Of Justice Reveals Plan To Investigate Baltimore Police Department

By Mark Puente, The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — After years of alleged police brutality, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed plans Monday to investigate the Baltimore Police Department.
At the U.S. attorney’s office in Baltimore, the Department of Justice announced initial details about collaborative-reform initiative to curb police brutality in the city. Officials at the announcement included U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and Ronald L. Davis, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Department of Justice.
Davis said he has known Batts for years and is confident he will be a full partner in the coming review.
“We will be able to make the Baltimore Police Department even better and stronger than it is today,” Davis said in a statement. “The collaborative reform initiative we embark on today is just that — a collaboration — and everything this partnership entails will be done in an open and transparent fashion.”
While Batts and Rawlings-Blake said they started talking weeks ago about the federal program, they unveiled the request on Oct. 4 — five days after The Baltimore Sun published results of an investigation showing that residents have suffered broken bones and battered faces during arrests.
The Sun found that the city has paid $5.7 million in court judgments and settlements in 102 civil suits since 2011, and nearly all of the people involved in incidents leading to those lawsuits were cleared of criminal charges. Some officers were involved in multiple lawsuits.
“When law enforcement misconduct is uncovered, the U.S. Department of Justice has a variety of tools available to respond,” Davis said. “Responses to misconduct in law enforcement organizations fall along a continuum of intervention.”
The federal review will examine training standards, the way police interact with residents and how the department tracks complaints against officers. Investigators look for troubling patterns. Within weeks, a team of policing experts could be in Baltimore, talking to residents, community leaders and officers.
Some city leaders, like Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, prefer a wider probe of the Baltimore Police Department.
Such collaborative reviews differ from full-scale civil rights investigations because they are agreed to by local officials and are not enforced by court order. A review can turn into a full-scale civil rights investigation if federal officials find serious problems, as they did in Ferguson, Mo., where the police shooting of an unarmed teen sparked a national outcry.
The Department of Justice says it developed the collaborative reform in 2011 as an independent and objective way to transform a law enforcement agency through an analysis of policies, practices, training, tactics and accountability methods around key issues facing law enforcement today.
The coming review in Baltimore is similar to ongoing probes in Philadelphia and Spokane, Wash., that are focusing on police shootings and other issues.
The goal is to help change the ways that law enforcement agencies build community partnerships and enhance transparency; transform agencies through decision making and policies; and institutionalize reforms with integrated accountability measures, officials say.
The reform was first utilized in Las Vegas in the aftermath of officer-involved shootings. Prosecutors cleared officers of wrongdoing in most cases.
The Department of Justice finished its review in November 2012 and a 155-page report in May 2014 that focused on the use of deadly force, including an analysis of policies, training, tactics and documentation. Investigators interviewed more than 100 people, including residents, officers, prosecutors and police union officials.
Among its 75 findings, the federal government listed 16 shortcomings in use-of-force policies and procedures, and recommended reforms.

AFP Photo/Joe Raedle

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