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Press Release

Justice Department Reaches Agreement with City of Baltimore to Reform Police Department’s Unconstitutional Practices

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department announced today that it has entered into a court enforceable agreement with the city of Baltimore to resolve the department’s findings that the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) engages in a pattern and practice of conduct that violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution as well as federal anti-discrimination laws.

The consent decree, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, creates a pathway toward lasting reform within BPD.  The decree’s requirements focus on building community trust, creating a culture of community and problem-oriented policing, prohibiting unlawful stops and arrests, preventing discriminatory policing and excessive force, ensuring public and officer safety, enhancing officer accountability and making needed technological upgrades.  Under the agreement, the parties will jointly recommend an independent monitor to the court to assess whether the requirements of the agreement are being implemented.  The independent monitor will report publicly on BPD’s implementation efforts on a regular basis.  In the joint motion filing the decree, the parties requested that the court provide an opportunity for members of the public and stakeholders throughout Baltimore to provide written submissions to the court about the proposed decree, and then hold a public hearing. 

“Last August, we concluded that the Baltimore Police Department had engaged in conduct that deprived the people of Baltimore of the rights and protections guaranteed to every American, and that the deeply-rooted mistrust between law enforcement officers and the community they serve harmed all who call Baltimore home,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.  “After thorough, good-faith negotiations, the Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore have agreed to enter into a court-enforceable consent decree to remedy the violations identified in our investigation.  The reforms in this consent decree will help ensure effective and constitutional policing, restore the community’s trust in law enforcement, and advance public and officer safety.  We could not be prouder to partner with the people of Baltimore on this journey towards making their city a community that protects the dignity, rights, and safety of all its people.”

“Under the consent decree, the city and BPD will implement comprehensive reforms to end the legacy of Baltimore’s ‘zero tolerance’ policing,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.  “In its place, BPD will empower its officers to engage in proactive, community-oriented policing.  And given our experiences in many other cities, I firmly believe that when focused, measurable and detailed reforms are implemented effectively, they restore community trust and advance officer and public safety.”

Under the consent decree, the city of Baltimore and BPD will implement comprehensive reforms that will ensure that:

  • Baltimore establishes a Community Oversight Task Force to recommend reforms to the current system of civilian oversight. 
  • BPD adopts a policing approach that is community-oriented and based on problem solving principles.
  • Officers’ voluntary interactions are professional and courteous, and officers conduct all investigatory stops, searches and arrests in a manner that protects people’s rights.
  • BPD provides equal protection of the law for all individuals, including providing impartial policing services.
  • Officers use appropriate de-escalation techniques and attempt to resolve incidents without force when possible; use force in a manner that is proportional to the threat presented; and BPD’s use of force policies, training and review systems provide sufficient guidance, skills and accountability.
  • BPD transports detainees in a manner that keeps them safe.
  • Officers respect the First Amendment rights of all persons.
  • BPD investigates sexual assault thoroughly and without gender bias.
  • Baltimore conducts an assessment to minimize youth involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice systems, as appropriate, and that officers approach interactions with youth in a manner appropriate to their age.
  • Baltimore conducts an analysis of gaps in the city’s mental health system in consultation with a committee of behavioral health experts and service providers, and BPD instructs and dispatches officers who are properly trained in interacting with people in crisis or with behavioral health disabilities when a police response is appropriate.
  • Allegations of employee misconduct are fully, fairly and efficiently investigated; that all investigative findings are supported by the appropriate standard of proof and documented in writing; and that all officers who commit misconduct are held accountable pursuant to a disciplinary system that is fair, consistent and provides due process.
  • Officers receive necessary equipment, policy guidance, training and support to do their jobs safely and effectively, and BPD performs a staffing study to ensure a sufficient number of officers and supervisors.

The Justice Department announced its findings in August 2016 following a thorough investigation into BPD started in May 2015.  The department found that BPD made stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; used enforcement strategies that unlawfully subjected African Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; used excessive force; and retaliated against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression.  The pattern or practice resulted from systemic deficiencies that persisted within BPD for many years and exacerbated community distrust of the police, particularly in African-American communities. 

In October 2014, city and BPD leadership requested to enter a collaborative reform process with the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS office).  After the Civil Rights Division opened the pattern-or-practice investigation in May 2015, the COPS office and the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs have continued to offer federal resources, such as technical assistance, to the BPD, city officials and community leaders.

This investigation was conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section with the assistance of law enforcement professionals pursuant to the pattern or practice provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.  Since 2009, the Special Litigation Section has opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies.  The section is enforcing 20 agreements with law enforcement agencies, including 15 consent decrees and one post-judgment order.  The division also recently released a comprehensive report that provides an overview of the police reform work done under pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which can be found at the following link:

For more information on the Civil Rights Division and the Special Litigation Section, please visit

Updated January 12, 2017

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 17-042