Criminal Justice

Baltimore agrees to police reforms in agreement with Justice Department

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After months of negotiations with the U.S. Justice Department, the city of Baltimore has agreed to wide-ranging police reforms.

The changes, outlined in a 227-page consent decree (PDF), still must be approved by a federal judge, the Baltimore Sun reports. Among the changes addressed in the agreement are policies concerning stops and arrests, use of force, and transportation of persons in custody.

The Justice Department investigated the department amid outcry over the death of Freddie Gray, who died from a spine injury after he was arrested and transported in a police van in April 2015.

Six police officers were charged in Freddie Gray’s death. Three were acquitted and prosecutors dropped charges against the three others.

A Justice Department report in August concluded that a legacy of zero tolerance by Baltimore police had resulted in a pattern of pedestrian stops in minority neighborhoods and “matter of course” pat-downs.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch appeared with Baltimore officials at a press conference on Thursday announcing the signing of the agreement. Lynch said the reforms are “robust” and “comprehensive,” though she was not under any “illusions that change is easy.”

The decree requires the city to:

• Bar investigatory stops by officers when they lack reasonable suspicion that a person is involved in criminal activity. Officers will not be able to use boilerplate language when describing the basis for such a stop. The documentation should also state whether a weapons frisk was conducted, and state the reasons why. Frisks will not be allowed unless officers have a reasonable suspicion that a person is armed and dangerous.

• Bar boilerplate language when describing the basis for traffic stops. Warrantless searches of vehicles won’t be allowed except in specific circumstances, such as when there is probable cause that a person has unlawful contraband.

• Track data on stops, frisks and arrests.

• Require officers to use no more force than necessary to detain a restrained person, and bar the use of choke holds unless deadly force is authorized and no reasonable alternative exists.

• Use medical professionals to conduct body cavity searches, only after a warrant is obtained.

• Require supervisor approval before arresting a person for quality of life offenses.

• Outfit vans for transporting prisoners with seat belts, grab straps and cameras. The cameras will record the prisoner transport and also display live video to the driver.

• Establish training in several areas, including de-escalation, protection of First Amendment activities, and handling of sexual assault allegations.

• Ensure that officer complaints are properly investigated.

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