Police observe a 2016 protest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. Photo by Andrew ...

In blow to DOJ, federal judge approves Baltimore police reform agreement

A federal judge approved an agreement Friday to make changes to the Baltimore Police Department, aimed at cracking down on the use of excessive force and racial profiling.

The order from a U.S. district court in Maryland denied a recent Justice Department request to delay the proposed consent decree, which was negotiated during the Obama administration. The Justice Department had asked for a 90-day delay to review the consent decree on the same day this week Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a sweeping review of his department’s relationship with local law enforcement.

“While the Department of Justice continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore, I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city,” Sessions said in a statement responding to the court ruling.

The attorney general said the consent decree was rushed and could hinder Baltimore police from doing their job as they try to stem a rise in violent crime.

The Obama administration entered into several agreements with police departments across the country, including those in Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, to improve the relationship between law enforcement and their communities. The federal push for these plans followed public pressure from advocacy groups like Black Lives Matter that called attention to numerous deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

Read the federal judge’s order today, approving the consent decree for the Baltimore Police Department:

Federal judge's order entering consent decree for Baltimore by PBS NewsHour on Scribd

Despite opposition from the Justice Department, Baltimore’s mayor promised to move forward with plans to reform the city’s police department.

“Our goal is a stronger police department that fights crime while it serves and protects the civil and constitutional rights of our residents,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement Friday. “It will take a collaborative effort among our state and federal partners to achieve our ambitious goals, and I am confident in our mutual commitment to reforms and to the citizens of Baltimore,” she wrote.

The consent decree was proposed after the Justice Department launched an investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody in 2015. The report found evidence of unlawful stops, searches and arrests.

The consent decree orders Baltimore police to use proper de-escalation tactics and undergo training on how to interact with youth, the mentally ill, protesters and victims in sexual assault cases. It also requires the city establish a community task force to oversee the police department and publicly report their findings.

READ MORE: Sessions calls Ferguson an emblem of tense relationship with police