NAACP Legal Defense Fund Submits Comments on the Proposed Baltimore Consent Decree 

Today, in response to the federal court’s order soliciting public comment, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) submitted written comments on the proposed consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Police Department of Baltimore City (BPD).  The comments stated that “[g]iven long-standing police violence and misconduct in Baltimore, which has been documented in the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigative report, a court-enforceable agreement is fair, warranted, and should be approved.” LDF offered 12 areas in which the proposed consent decree could be improved, including these highlights: 

1)  Selection and Role of the Independent Monitor:  The selection of a team of persons who will work with the Court to monitor the consent decree to ensure that all provisions are carried out fully will be essential to the success of the agreement. Any Request for Application from candidates who will serve as the independent monitor should emphasize that members of the monitoring team are diverse as it relates to race, ethnicity, gender, age, socio-economic status and expertise.  Priority consideration should be given to applications that agree to hire individuals or community-based organizations to serve on the monitoring team. Members of the public should have 30-days to review applications and recommend questions for applicants during interviews. Final applicants should meet with members of the public in four different locations around the city to answer any questions about their qualifications. 

2) Stops, Searches, Arrests, and Voluntary Police-Community Interactions: During field interviews, BPD officers should be required to provide a business card to persons who are stopped. Additionally, police-citizen contact receipts should include the race, ethnicity, gender, and age of the person stopped and specific reason for the stop.

3) Response to Sexual Assault: BPD must develop policies and practices aimed at documenting and addressing sexual harassment and assault of victims by BPD officers. This includes putting systems in place to collect data on the victim and suspect populations, the incidence and nature of cases of sexual assault reported to and handled by BPD, and the incidence of cases of sexual assault involving BPD officers.

4) Coordination with Baltimore City School Police Force:  BPD’s initial assessment of the Baltimore School Police Force (BSPF) should begin 90 days after the approval of the consent decree. To the extent that the BPD continues to contract with BSPF, then any memorandum of understanding must require BSPF to follow the same policies, training and data collection and reporting as BPD officers under the final consent decree between DOJ and Baltimore City. 

Three years ago, following an unrelenting series of police-involved deaths of African-American men, women, and children, LDF launched its Policing Reform Campaign, which seeks to promote unbiased and responsible policing policies and practices at the national, state, and local levels. In Baltimore, shortly after the police in-custody death of Freddie Gray, LDF and a coalition of clergy and civil rights organizations sent a letter to then President Barack Obama asking him to direct the U.S. Attorney General to open a civil rights investigation of the BPD. We argued that city residents had endured years of police violence and misconduct costing the city $5.7 million in settlements and court judgments from 2011 through 2014. The DOJ launched its probe of the BPD in May 2015, and over a year later, released a scathing report of its finding in August 2016. The report found that the BPD engaged in a pattern or practice of: conducting unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests; using racially discriminatory policing strategies; using excessive force; and retaliating against persons who criticized police officers or were involved in lawful protests. To inform settlement negotiations between DOJ and Baltimore City officials, in September 2016, LDF co-hosted a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law for Baltimore residents and stakeholders to share with DOJ attorneys any policing reforms they wanted to see in any consent decree between DOJ and BPD.

Overall, the proposed consent decree contains many promising provisions that, if followed, will eliminate racially-discriminatory stops, arrests and searches and the use of excessive or lethal force by Baltimore police officers. Provisions in the consent decree also seek to improve the process for collecting and investigating misconduct and create a system for the timely investigation and fair discipline of officers who engage in misconduct. 

Read LDF’s full letter here

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Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative.