The U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore announced an agreement to reform the city’s troubled police department on Thursday. The 227-page document lays out a detailed plan for the Baltimore police to try to correct egregious violations of constitutional rights, racial disparities in their practices, excessive use of force, and a culture of retaliation against whistleblowers. The agreement could represent one of the last hurrahs for the police-reform movement before the Trump administration takes office.
The agreement, which the city voted to fund Thursday morning, even before it had been made public, resolves a federal investigation that began with the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in April 2015. That death provoked widespread demonstrations in the streets of the Charm City, and some rioting, drawing the spotlight to a long history of racial division and unequal policing in Baltimore. While a prosecutor’s bid to convict officers for their role in Gray’s death failed, the Justice Department produced a stomach-churning report last August.
The report found, for example, that Baltimore police tended to make frequent stops and arrests, even when there was no useful law-enforcement reason for it, and often at the expense of community relations. But the problem ran much deeper: Police often made stops and arrests that fell afoul of constitutional protections. Many stops ended with no citation or arrest, and even when they did, booking officers often rejected charges as too flimsy—doing so 11,000 times between 2010 and 2015. Sometimes cops rounded up large numbers of people, then “unarrested” them when they determined they had no grounds for it. Justice also found that people were often arrested simply for exercising their First Amendment rights by criticizing or talking back to officers.