DOJ Gives Baltimore Sought-After Probe Into Pattern of Police Biases

WASHINGTON (CN) – Baltimore has proven a fruitful target of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s attentions since taking office last week.
On Friday Lynch announced that she would grant the city’s request for a federal investigation of the police department under scrutiny after the death of Freddie Gray.
Six officers face criminal charges in connection to the spinal cord injury that killed the 25-year-old, whose funeral last week devolved into a night of violence and looting.
Lynch, whose confirmation ceremony occurred on the same day as those riots, made Baltimore the site of her first official visit Tuesday, a day she spent meeting with the Gray family and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.
The Justice Department said Friday that its “pattern or practice” investigation of the Baltimore Police Department will look for “systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by officers.”
“The investigation will focus on BPD’s use of force, including deadly force, and its stops, searches and arrests, as well as whether there is a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing,” according to a statement from Lynch’s office.
Federal officials had already begun a “collaborative reform process” in Baltimore this past October, and the Justice Department said Friday that this process will now seek to help Baltimore police implement “changes and improvements even as the pattern or practice investigation is underway.”
Emphasizing that the Department of Justice “has conducted dozens of these pattern or practice investigations,” Lynch said the government has seen how this kind of intervention breeds “improved policing practices and increased trust between the police and the community.”
“Ultimately, this process is meant to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need – including training, policy guidance and equipment – to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety,” Lynch added.
The Justice Department touted its past investigations for bringing “comprehensive, court-overseen agreements to fundamentally change the law enforcement agency’s police practices” in other communities.
“In addition to gathering information directly from community members, pattern or practice investigations involve interviewing police officers and local officials; gathering information from other criminal justice stake holders, such as public defenders and prosecutors; observing officer activities through ride-alongs and other means; and reviewing documents and specific incidents that are relevant to our investigation,” the Justice Department’s statement continues.
The “pattern or practice” investigation of Baltimore’s police department is separate from a concurrent criminal civil rights investigation related to the death of Freddie Gray, Lynch’s office emphasized.
Lynch said her visit to Baltimore brought her attention to the “significant work that the city and the police department had done” over the last six months through a collaborative reform process with the government’s COPs office, short for Community Oriented Policing.
“But despite the progress being made, it was clear that recent events – including the tragic in-custody death of Freddie Gray – had given rise to a serious erosion of public trust,” Lynch added.
The “pattern or practice” investigation will begin immediately, Lynch said, distinguishing it from the pre-existing COPs process, which involved “examining whether the police department violated good policies.”
“We will now examine whether they violated the Constitution and the community’s civil rights,” Lynch continued. She said the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police has “welcomed” this approach.
If the DOJ finds unconstitutional policies or practices, it will seek a court-enforceable agreement to address those issues, Lynch said.
“I have no illusions that reform will be easy; the challenges we face did not arise in a day, and change will not come overnight,” the attorney general continued. “It will take time and sustained effort. But the people I met in Baltimore – from protestors to public officials to an officer who had been injured amidst the violence – all said the same thing: ‘I love my city, and I want to make it better.’ That’s why I’m so optimistic about this process. That’s why I’m so hopeful about the days to come. And that’s why I am confident that, as a result of this investigation and the hard work still ahead, all members of the Baltimore community – residents and law enforcement alike – will be able to create a stronger, safer, more united city together.”

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