Justice News

Head of the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at a Press Conference Announcing a Consent Decree with City of Baltimore
Baltimore, MD
United States
Thursday, January 12, 2017

Good morning, and thank you, Attorney General [Loretta E.] Lynch.  I’d like to also thank Mayor [Catherine] Pugh and Commissioner [Kevin] Davis – for their cooperation and leadership throughout this process, and for their clear commitment to reform the Baltimore City Police Department.  I want to thank the people of Baltimore, including the city’s police officers, for their commitment to this process and for the hard work they do every day to ensure public safety.  And I want to thank my team from the Civil Rights Division for their outstanding work on this case.

Last August, the Justice Department announced the findings of our investigation.  We described a series of systemic violations: unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; discriminatory policing; excessive force; and retaliation against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression.  These practices eroded trust.  And they put the lives of officers and residents at greater risk.

We also pledged in August that we would work together with the city and BPD to identify the reforms necessary to fix the problems we found, and include those reforms in a court-enforceable, independently-monitored consent decree.  We listened to what community members, police officers and union leaders had to say.  We read carefully the many thoughtful written submissions we received.  I want to thank all the stakeholders who shared their ideas with us.  We then spent months negotiating the agreement we are here to announce today.

As the Attorney General just said, the robust agreement we are announcing includes a range of reforms designed to advance constitutional policing, restore community trust and promote officer and public safety.  Under the consent decree, the city and BPD will implement comprehensive reforms to end the legacy of Baltimore’s “zero tolerance” policing.  In its place, BPD will empower its officers to engage in proactive, community-oriented policing.  Through improved policies, training and oversight, the city and BPD will:

  • Ensure that officers conduct stops, searches and arrests in a manner that complies with the law and promotes public safety.
  • Ensure that officers use appropriate de-escalation techniques and attempt to resolve incidents without force when possible; and use force in a manner that is proportional to the threat presented.
  • Transport detainees in a manner that keeps them safe.
  • Ensure that officers investigate sexual assault thoroughly and without gender bias.
  • They will dispatch officers who are properly trained in interacting with people in crisis or with behavioral health disabilities when a police response is appropriate.
  • Ensure that allegations of officer misconduct are fully, fairly and efficiently investigated; and ensure that the disciplinary system is fair, consistent and provides due process.

In addition, the city and BPD will:

  • Establish a Community Oversight Task Force to recommend reforms to the current system of civilian oversight.
  • Ensure that officers receive the equipment, technological upgrades, guidance and support they need to do their jobs safely and effectively; and that BPD performs a staffing study to ensure a sufficient number of officers and supervisors.

Going forward, we will need the ongoing support and engagement of this entire community – from officers, to residents, to city officials.  This is your city.  And this is your police department.  As I said back in August, real and lasting reform won’t happen overnight.  It will happen over time, as we work together to change cultures, fix systems and reform practices.

Many people in the Baltimore community are wondering today: what happens next?  Today, we are filing the consent decree in federal court, and together with the city and BPD asking the court to make the settlement a court order.  And when we do, both the city and the Justice Department will be asking the court to hold a hearing and provide an opportunity for the community to share its views on the decree.  Once the court approves it, the next step is to select an independent monitor to provide technical assistance to the city and BPD and assess their compliance with the decree.  We will engage in that process in a transparent manner and provide opportunities for public input.  

We have come a long way.  And let me be clear: Baltimore has not stood still during this process.  Instead, BPD immediately began making improvements.  This has been a real and engaging partnership, with all parties bringing their ideas to the table.  With the leadership in this city, including Mayor Pugh and Commissioner Davis; with the engagement of this community; and with the input of Baltimore police officers and leaders, from union officials, to line officers, to command staff – I know the Baltimore Police Department can become a model for the rest of the nation.  I know this because we have seen it happen in other communities around the country during the past several years.  Police reform is hard work.  But given our experiences in many other cities, I firmly believe that when focused, measurable and detailed reforms are implemented effectively, with the support and commitment of all stakeholders, they restore community trust and advance officer and public safety.

Thank you.  At this time, I’d like to invite Commissioner Davis to the podium to offer remarks.

Updated January 12, 2017