The morning after the Department of Justice's report laid bare the scope of the deep and systemic problems within the Baltimore Police Department—confirming the many stories of abuse of power and civil rights violations that residents have been complaining about for years—Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, gathered in front of the media to tell the citizens of Baltimore: we're on top of this.
Just how much remains unclear.
The city has entered into an agreement in principle with the U.S. government to negotiate a consent decree to create reforms, which will be monitored by the U.S. District Court in Maryland.
"The agreement in principle is just a framework," Gupta said in prepared remarks.
Under that framework, the city has agreed to reshape more than a dozen areas of policing, ranging from training to data collection to stops, searches, and seizures to First Amendment interactions to the department's response to sexual assaults.
"In the coming days and weeks ahead, the Justice Department will be meeting with, and reaching out to, community members and law enforcement to hear their ideas—your ideas—about the kind of police department you want to see in your community," Gupta went on to say.
Rawlings-Blake then made sure to point out that change is already underway here in Baltimore, in the form of revising the BPD's use of force policy and 25 other policies and new training on said policies, as well as a pilot program for body cameras and the retrofitting of transport vehicles.
"Much work remains to be done, and change will not happen overnight," she said in her own prepared remarks. "But our efforts have started the necessary process of change and reform in Baltimore."
She thanked Davis and his top commanders for their efforts toward reform and expressed confidence the BPD "will become a model department for our country" after partnering with the DOJ and using the findings from the report.
"Over the next few months, we will put in place a concrete plan for change as well as concrete plans for a new culture for the good of the city, for the good of the police department, and for the good of the people the department protects," she said.
In his own remarks, Davis assuaged his officers by clarifying that this is not a condemnation of the whole department, but the "bad behaviors by a relatively small number of police officers over many, many years." This, despite the DOJ's findings that incidents violating the rights of Baltimore citizens numbered in the thousands.
"And some of the more egregious acts described in report, action has been taken, and those police officers have been removed and no longer work for the Baltimore Police Department," he said.
Further actions will be taken, he said.
"Those who choose to wear this uniform and choose to blatantly disregard someone's rights absolutely should be uncomfortable, because we are not going to tolerate it," he said. "It's your actions that are fostering fear and resentment in our communities, and making it extremely difficult and dangerous for the vast majority of honorable men and women who serve in our very noble profession."
Davis called back to his time with the Prince George's Police Department, which went through the same consent decree process after "nearly a decade of scrutiny by the Justice Department over allegations of excessive force," according to The Washington Post.
"What I know is that we came out of that consent decree a better and stronger agency," Davis said.
The mayor estimated that the cost of implementing these reforms would be about $5-$10 million annually and said that the city is prepared to pay it.
One reporter asked who is responsible for the police department being in this state, given that these issues are systemic.
"They are systemic," she said. "By the nature of your question, a system is not a individual."
Then she pivoted.
"That being said, I'm responsible for ushering in the meaningful reform that's taken place thus far, and I am certainly committed to making the meaningful reforms going forward."
She sees these reforms as linked to crime reduction.
"The only way that we're going to be safer as a city is when the community and the police have a mutual respect and trust, and we can get the work of policing done," she said. "There's nothing that the community can do on its own to create the safe neighborhoods we want. And there's so little the police can do without the cooperation of citizens."
If you have input for the consent decree, email Community.Baltimore@usdoj.gov or email@example.com.