Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York
Thank you, mayor [Catherine] Pugh. I want to thank you for welcoming me to Baltimore today, and I want to thank you and commissioner [Kevin] Davis for your cooperation, dedication and commitment to reform. I also want to thank Vanita Gupta, the outstanding leader of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and her team for their tremendous work in bringing about today’s agreement.
Twenty-one months ago, I took the oath of office as Attorney General of the United States on the same day that Freddie Gray was laid to rest here in Baltimore. That was a difficult day for a city that had already endured weeks of tension and protest, as feelings of mistrust and suspicion unfortunately boiled over into violence and unrest. Several days later, I came here on my first trip as Attorney General. I met with law enforcement officers; with the civic, religious and community leaders of the city; and with young people. And in each meeting, what we heard was loud and clear: the people of Baltimore love their city – and because of their love, they were disturbed by the deeply-rooted mistrust between law enforcement officers and the community they serve. They could not abide the breakdown of that trust. They wanted to make things better.
Shortly after my visit, the Justice Department launched a comprehensive investigation into the Baltimore Police Department. That investigation allowed us to hear the pain, anger and frustration of many community members. It allowed us to hear from local police officers about where their training falls short and what hardships they face in the field. And the investigation allowed us to identify specific areas where BPD’s systems prevent it from lawfully and effectively serving the community it is sworn to protect. In August 2015, we concluded that the police department had engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violated the Constitution and federal law – conduct that eroded trust and deprived the people of Baltimore of the rights and protections guaranteed to every American. And we noted that the strains in community trust harmed all who call Baltimore home – its residents and its law enforcement officers alike.
Today, I am proud to announce that as a result of that investigation – and 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 pattern or practice investigation. Through this agreement, we are moving forward together to heal the tension in the relationship between BPD and the community it serves. The agreement is robust and comprehensive. It includes a range of reforms to achieve our three main goals: to ensure effective and constitutional policing, to restore community’s trust in law enforcement and to advance public and officer safety. It will help BPD gain the cooperation it needs from residents to fight and prevent crime. Most importantly, it reflects significant input from the people of Baltimore.
That involvement has been vital at every phase – from the investigation to the negotiation of this agreement – and it will continue to be critical as we implement reforms. Because, as we know well, the future of Baltimore belongs to the people of this great city: to those who wear the badge and to those who seek its protection. Your commitment, dedication and determination have brought these reforms to the table today. And they will make the difference as we seek to realize the better future that is our shared goal.
We have no illusions that the change we seek will be easy. It will require a great deal of work from the leadership and officers of the Baltimore Police Department. It will require persistent feedback and input from community members. It will require the continued leadership and engagement of leaders like Mayor Pugh and Commissioner Davis. And it will require sustained efforts from all parties to mend, strengthen and solidify the trust between law enforcement and the community – the trust that is the bedrock of Baltimore’s public safety.
But I am confident that we are equal to that task. During my 21 months in office, I have learned something about the spirit of this proud city. This is a city of passionate and determined people. It is a city that is honest about its shortcomings and hopeful about its possibilities. And it is a city that will do the hard work to realize the brighter future its residents deserve.
We have met with, heard from and admired so many of you. We could not be prouder to be your partners on this journey towards making Baltimore a community that protects the dignity, rights and safety of all its people. And the Department of Justice will continue to stand with you to ensure that the reforms of this consent decree are implemented – and that our shared vision of a safer, stronger, more united Baltimore are realized.
At this time, I’d like to introduce Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, who will be providing more detail on the consent decree.