Last night, about 50 people from community groups including the No Boundaries Coalition, Out for Justice, Power Inside, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Hollaback! Bmore and others, along with OSI staff, Community Fellows, and members of OSI’s Leadership Council, met with representatives from the Department of Justice (DOJ) at OSI’s office to discuss the DOJ’s investigation of the Baltimore Police Department, and the process for creating a consent decree that will legally mandate reforms. (See OSI’s statement on the DOJ’s findings letter.)
The representatives from the DOJ repeatedly stressed the importance of community input in the creation of the consent decree. They encouraged people to come to the community meetings they will be holding in the coming weeks (there is one today, Thursday, at 6 p.m., sponsored by OSI grantees the No Boundaries Coalition and the Campaign for Safety, Justice, and Jobs, at St. Peter Claver Church, 1546 N. Fremont Ave.) and to send suggestions and recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org before September 9th.
“We will try to include as many of the community’s suggestions as we can,” said DOJ attorney Puneet Cheema. “People will be unsatisfied with the results; but we want to make it as strong as we can make it.”
The DOJ was asked whether it would turn over the names of people who were described in the report acting criminally. One DOJ lawyer said they could not, since some of the testimony came from confidential sources or files, but that the facts of the cases as laid out in the report could be enough for others – possibly the BPD or journalists – to do further research.
The DOJ representatives also stressed that there were limitations of what a consent decree could accomplish. In particular, they noted that they couldn’t require civilian oversight of the disciplinary board, since the police union (FOP) contract prohibits it. “We do not have the authority to supersede the FOP’s union contract with the city,” the DOJ attorney said, “but we may be able to apply pressure to the city that will affect what the city bargains for.”
It seemed that the most effective tool that might come out of a consent decree could be more reliable data collection and data-based consequences.
“The police department is not collecting data that allows the community, or the department itself, to identify what the department is doing, what trends may be occurring, what officers need training,” said one of the DOJ attorneys. “You can’t manage what you don’t know. Once we enter into a consent decree, various metrics such as number of stops go up, because suddenly data is starting to be collected. Increasing the transparency of the department is incredibly important and we have found it effective across the country.”