Explaining the Justice Department Reviews
The civil rights investigation of Baltimore’s police department that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced last week is but one of three federal probes of policing in Baltimore. There’s also the “collaborative review” announced last October and a separate civil rights investigation into the Freddie Gray case.
Gray died of injuries sustained in police custody April 19. Six officers involved with his detainment were charged in his death May 1.
In her announcement Friday Lynch said would roll the “collaborative review,” which could lead to non-binding recommendations, into the “pattern or practice” investigation.
Under the collaborative review, Justice Department investigators were looking police operations to see if Baltimore’s department violated good policy; from training to how officers operate on the streets to how they are held accountable for their actions. The review would have resulted in recommendations for the department.
The review will be folded into the “pattern or practice” investigation which will focus on whether officers violated the constitution and the community’s civil rights.
While the review would lead to recommendations, Professor Doug Colbert at the University Maryland School of Law said the findings of the “pattern or practice” investigation will have teeth.
“The federal government moves in court to compel the local police department to follow some very strict guidelines,” Colbert said.
The city Fraternal Order of Police, which said it welcomed the probe, has argued that Rawlings-Blake’s leadership of, and involvement in, the police department also deserves evaluation.
FOP President Gene Ryan pointed to a Justice Department investigation in Ferguson, Mo. that included city government.
Colbert said federal investigators could look at City Hall; especially if officers say they are getting orders from elected officials to practice profiling. He pointed to the days of zero-tolerance when Martin O’Malley was mayor as example.
“There was a very strong indication that the police were making arrests following the mayor and the police commissioner’s policy who believed in zero-tolerance enforcement,” he adds.
Results of the collaborative review will not be released to the public. Attorney General Lynch says the report on the “pattern or practice” investigation will be made public and will draw on findings of the collaborative review.
In the civil rights investigation into the Freddie Gray case, investigators will look at whether officers had a right to stop Gray. Colbert said there is a legal standard for that.
“If it gets to where the police are chasing someone and trying to apprehend them and taking them down and doing [a full search - not a pat down -] you either need reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has happened or is happening or is about to happen,” he said.
Colbert said he hopes investigators also will look at what he believes are excessive bails used to keep people behind bars for long time before a trial.
The Justice Department did not return a call seeking a time line for the investigations.