Baltimore reforms worry Justice Dept.

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Trump Justice Department expressed “grave concerns” Thursday about an agreement the Obama administration reached with the city of Baltimore to overhaul its police department in the wake of the racially explosive Freddie Gray case.

A government attorney weighed in on the proposed consent decree at a public hearing as about 50 Baltimore residents lined up to endorse the reforms and complain of deep-seated racism, abuse and deadly force at the hands of the police.

“The consent decree needs to be passed for us to feel we can call on the Baltimore Police Department without them making us into the criminals when we are the victims,” said black high school student Shane-jah McCaffity.

But Justice Department lawyer John Gore said Attorney General Jeff Sessions is worried about whether the agreement “will achieve the goals of public safety and law enforcement while at the same time protecting civil rights.”

Gore said there has been a spike in crime in Baltimore and the administration wants to make sure that the agreement “will help rather than hinder public safety.”

The stand represents the start of what appears to be a retreat by the Trump administration from the federal consent decrees that have been put in place in several U.S. cities in recent years to root out racism, excessive force and other abuses against minorities.

Nearly two years ago, Baltimore erupted in the worst rioting in decades over the death of Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken during what prosecutors said was a jolting ride in a police van while handcuffed and shackled.

The Justice Department launched an investigation and issued a scathing report outlining widespread mistreatment of black people, including excessive force and unlawful stops. The proposed agreement to remedy the abuses was negotiated during the final days of the Obama administration.

Baltimore Solicitor David Ralph said Thursday that the plan was designed to help police fight crime while also protecting residents’ rights and repairing trust between the community and the department.

The plan discourages officers from writing up minor offenses such as loitering and bars police from arresting people simply because they are in high-crime areas.

It also calls for more training for officers on handling mentally ill people, and the continuation of a program that is rolling out body cameras to all officers.

The agreement is subject to approval by U.S. District Judge James Bredar. It would then be up to him to make sure the parties abide by it.

The Justice Department initially wanted the judge to postpone the hearing.

By Patricia Older

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