Tom's guest is Kevin Davis, the Police Commissioner of the City of Baltimore. He oversees the eighth largest police department in the country, with an annual budget of $480 million; that’s almost 19% of the entire city budget. The BPD is one of about 25 agencies around the country that were investigated by the Civil Rights Division of the Dept. of Justice during the Obama Administration. Other jurisdictions included New Orleans, Cleveland, and Ferguson, MS.
In August of 2016, the Justice Department issued a scathing report about the Baltimore Police Department that found a pattern and practice of unconstitutional stops and arrests that singled out African Americans, the use of excessive force, and other very serious allegations. That report led to a consent decree that was agreed to on January 12th of this year, just 8 days before the Obama Administration handed power over to the Trump Administration.
Last month, U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar approved the Consent Decree, despite a request from the Justice Department to delay that approval. The process of appointing a monitor to oversee the consent decree is underway. The consent decree calls for, among other things, the creation of a Community Oversight Task Force, new procedures for stops, searches and arrests, new directives concerning use of force, and enhanced training for officers.
Of course, approving a legal document is one thing. Cultivating a climate of trust and cooperation between communities of color and the police is quite another. And the consent decree isn’t the only thing on Commissioner Davis’ mind.
The number of homicides in our city so far this year is, as of yesterday, 111. The murder rate is now the highest in the city’s history, which is to say that the number of people killed in the context of the number of people who live here has never been higher. Commissioner Davis and his police force face a daunting challenge: to change the basic culture of the department, while simultaneously addressing the immediate dilemma of a serious uptick in crime.
There are also bright spots to point to: The current police academy class is among the largest in recent memory, and the clearance rate for homicides and shootings, the number of cases that police think they have solved, is also up from recent years.