Restoring Trust in the Police

by: Elijah Cummings Special to the AFRO
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Here in Baltimore, our work to restore the public’s trust in our police officers – so essential to effective public safety – continues.

Elijah Cummings

With the full support of Baltimore’s elected and appointed leaders and civil rights advocates from every section of our City, we are proceeding toward enforcement of a judicially supervised and enforced Federal Consent Decree that will govern the manner in which our law enforcement officers perform their duties.

The admittedly complex public safety issues confronting our community were exhaustively documented by the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice in its “pattern or practice investigation” of the Baltimore City Police Department.

That investigation concluded that, despite the honorable and at times heroic service of most law enforcement officers, policing in Baltimore has far too often violated the constitutional rights of our citizens – especially our less affluent African American citizens.

Last week, United States Federal District Judge for the District of Maryland James K. Bredar concluded the hearing process and approved the Consent Decree that will assure federal judicial oversight of criminal justice reform in Baltimore during the decade to come.

Along with Maryland’s Senators and Baltimore’s other Representatives, I strongly support this reform process under federal judicial supervision.

Each of us in Baltimore’s federal delegation has undertaken a solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  We will not allow anyone to trample on the constitutional rights of our citizens.

For our courts, and for us all as citizens, this must remain our overriding and non-negotiable principle.

Now, we must redouble our efforts to assure that this mutually-agreed upon and broadly-supported blueprint for reform moves toward fruition as rapidly as possible.  When our constitutional protections as Americans are threatened, delay is not an acceptable option.

As Judge Bredar himself observed, delay could further erode the public trust that is so essential to effective policing.

These are two of the reasons that I joined the rest of Baltimore’s congressional delegation in vigorously objecting to the new Attorney General’s efforts to delay the federal court proceedings in Baltimore.  As we declared in our letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

“We are gravely concerned that the Justice Department will retreat from its obligation to protect the federal civil rights of the citizens of Baltimore….We urge the Justice Department to withdraw its request for a delay in proceedings and to continue working with Baltimore City and BPD as scheduled. We stand ready as a Congressional delegation to work closely with the Justice Department to rebuild public trust in the Baltimore City Police Department through these much-needed and long-overdue reforms.”

Fortunately, in approving the Consent Decree, Judge Bredar denied the Trump DOJ’s requested delay.  He found that request to be “untimely,” and that any such a delay “at the eleventh hour would unduly burden and inconvenience the Court, the other parties, and, most importantly, the public.”

We now are continuing on a path toward much-needed and long-overdue reforms that can make Baltimore’s Police Department a model for the nation.  Nevertheless, the Department of Justice’s wavering is deeply troubling.

Underlying the Trump Administration’s resistance seems to be a perception that Baltimore’s reform efforts are somehow “anti-police.”   If this, in fact, is the Administration’s viewpoint, it is both uninformed and tragically misguided.

At the heart of the current Administration’s perspective appears to be an unstated assumption: that constitutionally-sound policing cannot be effective in achieving public safety.  I strongly disagree.

After months of investigation and serious reflection, the Obama Justice Department and Baltimore’s leaders concluded that constitutional policing that respects our civil rights is also smart, effective public safety.  Indeed, it is the foundation for the public trust and cooperation that our law enforcement officers need in order to effectively and safely perform their duties.

In the days and months to come, implementing the now-approved Consent Decree will require the best efforts of law enforcement, elected officials and the Baltimore community as a whole.

We must continue to make our case to President Trump’s Justice Department – and any other doubters – that constitutionally sound policing is essential to keeping the public safe.

We must build upon the understanding that unconstitutional and racially disproportionate police practices have been major factors in law enforcement’s losing the trust and cooperation of much of our community – and that without the public’s full cooperation, effective policing of violent crime has become far more difficult.

The public’s safety must not be allowed to become a politically partisan issue.  To achieve real, lasting reform beyond the language of any court order, we must continue to make the better case that racial and socio-economic disparities in the enforcement of our laws are not only unconstitutional, they make all of us more vulnerable to violent crime.

In contrast, through our major reinvestment in our people and our recommitment to constitutional “community policing” that targets violent crime, we can restore the public’s trust in their police – and achieve a safer, more equitable, and more prosperous community for us all.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

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