Baltimore Seeks $2M for Response to Federal Investigation

8 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Rawlings-Blake seeks $2 million for lawyers to respond to U.S. probe of police.

For months, federal investigators have been probing whether Baltimore officers have engaged in a pattern or practice of violating residents’ constitutional rights or discriminatory policing.

In other cities, such investigations have exposed problems such as brutality and outdated training, leading to federal oversight that can last for years and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The mayor’s request for spending on the law firm — which will require City Council approval — comes as the administration also hopes to spend $533,000 to hire additional crime scene analysts to bolster the police department’s overburdened forensics lab and to give the city’s civilian review board more staffing to investigate police misconduct complaints. Some council members were surprised Monday to learn how much the administration wants to spend on the outside legal counsel, especially on the heels of the $6.4 million settlement the city reached in September with the family of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who died in police custody. “That’s a lot of money,” said City Council Vice President Edward Reisinger. “We just spent $6.4 million, and now $2 million more? The attorneys could help the city mitigate costs in the long run, he said. “For me, any expense of taxpayer dollars always raises questions,” Scott said. “If this can be used to offset and lower costs over time, it could be well worth this amount.

We don’t know if the administration knows something from [the Justice Department] that we don’t know.” The federal intervention started last fall, just days after a Baltimore Sun investigation found that the city had paid millions in recent years on court judgments and settlements in 102 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct. Rioting, looting and arson gripped the city on the day of his funeral in April, and days later six officers were charged in connection with his arrest and death.

With regard to the proposed funding for the crime lab, director Steven O’Dell said the lab is handling so many calls it can take a day for a technician to respond to the scene of a burglary. Technicians can get so backed up that by the time they make it to some crime scenes, the victims say they no longer want the lab to catalog the evidence, O’Dell said. He expects the new hires to have a ripple effect on the department’s ability to investigate crime because they will free up officers who would otherwise be tasked with helping to collect and process evidence.

Willner, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, said residents in the Northwest Baltimore community noticed the delays and asked the mayor about it at a town hall meeting several months ago. He said he was “ecstatic” to hear about the investment. “When you are a victim of crime, the answer that there are more serious crimes elsewhere in the city doesn’t really matter to you,” Willner said. “I don’t fault the city for focusing on the more serious crimes first. Rawlings-Blake said she hired Brown to bring a “strong focus” to the office, and believes hiring additional staff will build trust in the law enforcement process. Joyce Green, who has served on the board for about three years, said the additional positions will help, but the board will still be limited in its ability to address police misconduct.

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