Baltimore Mayor Asks Justice Department To Investigate Police Department

May 6, 2015
Originally published on May 6, 2015 7:55 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today, the mayor of Baltimore asked the U.S. Justice Department for more help. She asked for a federal investigation into the practices of the Baltimore police. The Governor of Maryland today lifted a state of emergency imposed after the rioting that broke out after the death of Freddie Gray. He said there's no longer a need for the National Guard and others who were called in to help patrol the streets. From Baltimore, NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the U.S. Justice Department to look into how Baltimore police conduct arrests, street stops of suspects and other practices to see if they violate the Constitution. Her formal request for what's called a pattern or practice investigation comes just a day after Attorney General Loretta Lynch traveled to Baltimore. She met with the mayor, council members, police officials and community leaders.

Since last October, the Justice Department and the Baltimore police have been working on what's called a collaborative reform initiative. That followed a Baltimore Sun investigation, which showed the city had paid almost $6 million in recent years to settle lawsuits alleging police abuse. Rawlings-Blake says her request is urgent because of what she called the fractured relationship between the police and many residents in predominately African-American neighborhoods.

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MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: We have to have a foundation of trust, and I believe that we need the assistance of the Department of Justice and the civil rights investigation to sure up that foundation that is weak right now in our city.

CORLEY: Six police officers were arrested last week in the Gray case, which is one of the latest in a series of deaths of unarmed black men involving police. The Justice Department has conducted pattern or practice investigations in some of those cases. For example, last March it concluded the police department of Ferguson, Mo., where an officer shot an unarmed 18-year-old last year, had routinely engaged in racially biased practices. And the Justice Department said it is considering Baltimore's request. Rawlings-Blake says it's part of her effort to reform the police department.

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RAWLINGS-BLAKE: We have seen results from these efforts. In 2014, citizens' complaints alleging excessive force were down 46 percent. Police discourtesy complaints were down 53 percent. Notices of lawsuits alleging police misconduct are down dramatically over the past three years.

CORLEY: And the mayor says the city wants to equip all of its officers with body cameras by year's end. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says he plans to sign a bill sometime next week that will help make that possible. And today, Hogan lifted the state of emergency he imposed after riots broke out in Baltimore following Gray's death.

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GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN: Now's the time for us to come together and to focus on solutions. It's also about being prepared for the future as well - to be ready at any time to fulfill our most basic and most important obligation, and that is ensuring the peace and safety of our citizens.

CORLEY: Hogan said the city suffered extensive damage during the rioting and looting. He says about 250 businesses were damaged and 170 cars severely vandalized. There were numerous fires, homes destroyed or damaged and more than 100 police officers injured. Hogan says the total cost of the damage is yet to be determined, but the state is using $20 million from a rainy-day fund to provide some assistance. And Hogan says there's still some concern about what could happen next as the investigation of the officers progresses.

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HOGAN: We know that tensions still remain high. Emotions are still inflamed. It's calmed down for a little while. It's right below the surface. And we learned a lot from this crisis. I mean, I don't think - nobody's dealt with this in Maryland, at least, since 1968.

CORLEY: And Governor Hogan says the lessons from what's taken place in Baltimore over the past weeks can help move the city to a better place. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.