By Michael Nam
After Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake requested that the Justice Department fully investigate the Baltimore Police Department, the Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that federal investigators are conducting a civil rights probe into the city’s police practices.
The investigation is to run concurrently with criminal investigations at both the state and federal level into the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man killed in police custody, as well as with the policing reform efforts underway. The Justice Department probe will address the separate issue of overall institutional problems within the police department.
“Now some may ask how this differs with our current work with Baltimore Police Department,” said Attorney General Lynch in a press conference, “and the answer is, rather than examining whether the police department violated good policies, we will now examine whether they violated the Constitution and the community’s civil rights.”
The investigation will be similar to the damning Justice Department report into Ferguson, Missouri, which revealed systemic racist abuse of Black and impoverished citizens through the uneven application of arrests and fines.
That report led to the resignation of the Ferguson city manager, a municipal judge and the police chief, and it left the city expensively negotiating with the Department of Justice over the implementation of policing reforms.
“We all know that Baltimore continues to have a fractured relationship between the police and the community,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake when she announced her request for the federal investigation. “I’m willing to do what it takes to reform my department.”
Attorney General Lynch hopes that the federal investigation will provide a template for other cities and communities to avoid some of the difficulties Baltimore recently endured.
“The Department of Justice civil rights division has conducted dozens of these pattern or practice investigations to date and we have seen from our work in jurisdictions across the country that communities that have gone through this process are experiencing improved policing practices and increased trust between the police and the community,” Lynch said. “In fact, I encourage other cities to study our past recommendations and see whether they can be applied in their own communities.”
In recent weeks, Baltimore has seen surprisingly fast responses to its devastating situation. The announcement of criminal charges against the six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death, CVS’s plans to rebuild their damaged or destroyed stores and now the federal government taking action in reviewing police procedures all demonstrate a new positive trend in what have been some dark days for the city.