BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Baltimore residents were able to weigh in for the first time Thursday on a proposed agreement between the Baltimore Police Department and the Department of Justice to overhaul the city’s police department.
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren was at the hearing at Baltimore’s federal courthouse where the agreement, also known as a consent decree, was discussed.
What comes next for the decree is up to U.S. District Judge James Bredar, who has been critical of the federal government asking for delays in implementing the plan.
Justice Department lawyers say, under the Trump administration, they believe this is local business and the federal government shouldn’t be getting involved. They have “grave concerns” about the agreement, which was reached under President Barack Obama.
Justice Department lawyers cited Baltimore’s high crime numbers, saying they wonder if this consent decree is really in the interest of public safety.
Justice Department attorney John Gore said Attorney General Jeff Sessions is worried about “whether it will achieve the goals of public safety and law enforcement while at the same time protecting civil rights,” The Associated Press reports.
Gore said there has been a spike in crime in Baltimore and the administration wants to make sure that the decree, “will help rather than hinder public safety.”
“It’s in the judge’s hands right now, and the judge can rule whenever the judge determines it’s appropriate,” acting city solicitor David Ralph said outside the courthouse.
Marcella Hall broke down in tears before the judge. She was one of 49 people to speak at the hearing. She carried a picture of her son with her.
Hall lost her son at the hands of police, yet she, too, has concerns about the decree.
“They’ve been corrupt my whole, entire life and they ain’t gonna stop because of the piece of paper in courtroom,” she said.
Greta Carter-Willis also lost a son in a police-involved shooting. But she believes federally-mandated reforms are necessary.
“My message for the DOJ: You have signed this decree. We are holding you accountable. You’re the ones that came in, you found these inconsistencies within this department, and you must stand to your word that you’re going to allow it go forward.”
The judge has chastised Justice Department officials for trying to put the brakes on the decree. City leaders have urged him to move forward.
“For them to postpone it would precipitate a lot of outrage,” says Richard Ochs, a city resident.
The Obama administration favored high-profile agreements with cities where the DOJ found widespread police violations of civil rights.
Last year, the Justice Department published a scathing 164-page report outlining widespread abuse including excessive force, unlawful stops and discriminatory practices. The investigation was launched after the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken while he was in police custody.
Among the findings of that report: Some Baltimore officers asked for sex in exchange for not arresting women, routinely discriminated against blacks and repeatedly used excessive force.
The question now, under President Trump, is will the federal government keep those deals, or be dragged into them by the courts?
Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation who serve the Baltimore area have all come out against the Justice Department’s request for a delay.
Mayor Catherine Pugh says she will move forward with the reforms with or without the federal government, and Governor Larry Hogan says he backs that decision.