US attorney general blasts deal to rein in Baltimore police

Washington (AFP) – US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday blasted an agreement to rein in Baltimore’s notorious police department, saying it would lead to more crime.

He criticized a federal judge’s approval of a consent decree that requires Baltimore police to implement sweeping reforms.

The agreement — which followed riots in the East Coast city after the 2015 death in police custody of 25-year-old Freddie Gray — forces the police to respect the rights of citizens, end harsh patrol tactics in black neighborhoods and use body cameras.

The Baltimore government and police agreed on the decree last year, but the new administration of President Donald Trump, promising to empower police to crack down on crime, sought to delay and modify it.

“Today, a federal court entered a consent decree that will require the court and a highly paid monitor to govern every detail of how the Baltimore Police Department functions for the foreseeable future,” Sessions said.

“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.”

Consent decrees are essentially contracts police departments enter into with the Justice Department to implement reforms under federal oversight, and usually arise from rampant corruption and rights abuses in the police.

Around a dozen metropolitan police departments were pushed into such agreements during the previous administration of president Barack Obama, amid a surge of police shootings of unarmed black men.

Those included the cities of Cleveland, Ohio and Ferguson, Missouri, where police shootings prompted local protests and a national outcry.

Baltimore’s police came under scathing criticism after the death of Gray, who suffered a severed spine while being transported in the back of a police van with his hands and feet bound.

Police said his death was an accident. Six officers were charged in the case, but all got off after prosecutors failed to provide enough evidence to convict them.

Despite such cases, Sessions has said that US police are too tightly controlled to halt what the government claims is a sharp surge in murder and violent crime. Although down steadily over the past two decades, crime numbers ticked up in 2015, the latest nationwide data available.

But crime has steadily risen in Baltimore. Sessions said violent crime was up 22 percent in 2016 and murders rose 78 percent, and have continued to gain pace this year.

“Meanwhile,” he said, “arrests in the city fell 45 percent based on some of these ill-advised reforms.”

“There are clear departures from many proven principles of good policing that we fear will result in more crime.”

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