Thanks to months of advocacy by OSI-Baltimore grantees, community voices informed the Department of Justice Consent Decree, and the Baltimore Police Department has begun to implement crucial reforms.
In January 2016, months after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opened a pattern or practice investigation of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD)—widely expected to lead to a consent decree— OSI-Baltimore hosted a convening for advocates from cities around the country with consent decrees to meet with Baltimore advocates and discuss strategy.
Over the course of 2016, OSI-Baltimore brought together advocates with the DOJ investigators, provided support to the Baltimore Police Department to begin to implement reforms, and provided funding to six community and advocacy organizations (Baltimore Action Legal Team, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, CASA, ACLU of Maryland, Power Inside, and No Boundaries Coalition) so that they could contribute fully to the investigation and to subsequent reform efforts.
In August, the DOJ released its report, concluding that there was “reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law.” Among the findings were that the BPD makes unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests, uses policies that disproportionately affect African Americans, uses excessive force, and retaliates against people for exercising their 1st Amendment rights. It was clear that the community voices that OSI and advocates brought to the DOJ process were integrated— sometimes word-for-word—in the DOJ report.
In January 2017, Baltimore City and the DOJ reached agreement on a consent decree requiring reforms of the BPD. In the ensuing months, OSI and its advocacy grantees continued to bring community voices into the process, including at the hearing where Judge James Bredar considered (and rejected) the request by the DOJ, under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to delay the consent decree’s implementation.
And in May, OSI-Baltimore reconvened local advocates and those from other cities that have implemented consent decrees, to discuss next steps. OSI-Baltimore will continue to support the Baltimore Police Department and community groups working to improve policing in Baltimore. While the current DOJ administration has indicated it wants to reevaluate policing agreements, OSI-Baltimore will continue to call on the DOJ to honor its agreements and work closely with BPD and the City and its residents to support reform efforts.