The 2015 death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody led to massive protests across the city, but ended with no convictions. The city’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby called the experience “agonizing” at the time, but the case sparked a new push for sweeping police reform and accountability laws in Baltimore, according to CNN.
"That accountability ultimately led to reform, and because of that reform, we had a spotlight on the entrenched police corruption in one of the largest police agencies in the country," Mosby told CNN. Baltimore officers are now required to seatbelt those in their custody, to call a medic when asked, and to intervene when fellow officers get out of line, Mosby explained. All police vans must also be equipped with cameras moving forward.
According to CNN:
In the wake of Gray’s death, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the Department of Justice to order a civil rights investigation into the city’s police department. The findings revealed a "pattern-or-practice of constitutional violations," including excessive force and racially biased arrests. The probe ultimately led to the implementation of a federal consent decree in 2017 mandating systemic reform.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison told CNN that the Baltimore police department has gone through a "total makeover" since that mandate. Harrison, who is also president of the board for the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), Baltimore now has "probably the most robust" use-of-force policy in the country, which emphasizes the "sanctity of life" and de-escalation strategies, Harrison told the news network.
According to CNN, “the department has also revised policies on stops, searches and arrests, fair and impartial policing, youth engagement, peer intervention, responding to lesser offenses, and behavioral health awareness and crisis intervention.”
Harrison added that the city is "turning the corner," evidenced by fewer complaints and officers using less force against community members. The department still “has a "long way to go,” he said.
Despite the significant reforms being implemented, many residents in neighborhoods that are most affected by the city’s ongoing violence have yet to see the cultural changes within the department or experience a more trusting relationship with police, according to Ray Kelly, a lifelong resident and community advocate of West Baltimore. Kelly is also the lead community liaison for the Independent Monitoring Team, which was appointed by a federal judge to help oversee the implementation of the consent decree.
Harrison said that in spite of the work that still needs to take place, Baltimore is held up as a model of police reform as officials in other cities look to overhaul their own policing policies. That being said, attempts to reform the BPD are typically overshadowed by the disproportionate number of Black lives lost to violence. “The city had its second-deadliest year on record in 2019 with 348 homicides,” according to CNN. “Baltimore recorded 335 homicides in 2020 and is headed on the same path with 167 homicides halfway into this year.”
"We don’t know how long it’s going to take to undo the embedded corruption and racism in the Baltimore Police Department," Kelly told CNN. "We have the blueprint the country wants for police reform, but police reform is in no way the definition of public safety.”
"If you’re investing in the root causes of crime and violence, you diminish the need for so much aggressive policing in communities,” Kelly added. “This consent decree is not about public safety, it’s about constitutional policing."