The Department of Justice said it has “grave concerns” about a consent decree reached with the City of Baltimore during the Obama administration to reform its police department and says it is skeptical about whether or not it will improve public safety.
The development comes two years after the death of Freddie Gray, a Black man who died in police custody. Gray’s death touched off days of social unrest there.
During a public hearing attended by Baltimore residents, John Gore, an attorney for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said the department “certainly agrees that there is a critical need for police reform,” but it is “really the job of local officials.”
He also said Attorney General Jeff Sessions is concerned over whether the decree “will achieve the goals of public safety and law enforcement while at the same time protecting civil rights.”
The department is requesting a 90-day hold in the consent decree process. Gore said there has been a spike in crime in Baltimore and the administration wants to make sure that the agreement “will help rather than hinder public safety.”
The stand represents the start of what appears to be a retreat by the Trump administration from the federal consent decrees that have been put in place in several U.S. cities in recent years to root out racism, excessive force and other abuses against minorities.
Gore said there are similar concerns that the DOJ has about consent decrees in other cities across the nation. The Obama Justice Department opened roughly two dozen investigations into police departments and 14 of them ended in consent decrees, in citieslike Chicago; Ferguson, Missouri; Miami; Cleveland; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Newark, N.J.
Acting City Solicitor, David Ralph, maintains that the decree was put together with the input of the community. He also says better public safety and increased security and training for police officers were all considered as it was being assembled.
“We don’t believe delay is necessary,” Ralph said, according to the Baltimore Sun. “We would like to move forward.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis have vowed to press on with police reform regardless of what happens with the consent decree. But they stressed they would prefer to see a court-enforceable agreement.
“The consent decree needs to be passed for us to feel we can call on the Baltimore Police Department without them making us into the criminals when we are the victims,” said Shane-jah McCaffity, an African-American high school student.
With Reporting by AP.