Yesterday the city of Baltimore signed a 227-page consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice putting the city’s police department under wide-ranging federal control for the indefinite future (earlier).
The decree (document; summary of high points) mingles some terms that rise to genuine constitutional significance with others that no court would have ordered, and yet others that appear not to be requirements of the law at all, but at most best practices. Many are virtually or entirely unenforceable (“professional and courteous” interaction with citizens). Whether or not the decree results in the less frequent violation of citizens’ rights, it is certain to result in large amounts of new spending and in the extension of the powers of lawyers working for various parties.
In November David Meyer Lindenberg of Fault Lines, the criminal justice website, wrote this opinion piece about the failure of DoJ police reform consent decrees to live up to the high claims often made for them (more: Scott Shackford, Reason). Our consent decrees tag traces the problems with these devices in a variety of public agencies such as those handling children’s and mental health services, as well as the budgetary rigidity they often impose.
Since Congress passed enabling legislation in 1994 in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, the Washington Post and Frontline reported in a 2015 investigation, “Twenty-six [police] investigations — a little more than half of them since President Obama took office — have led to the most rigorous outcome: binding agreements tracked by monitors. More than half were consent decrees, meaning they were approved and managed in federal court.” As of that point only Ohio, at 4 agreements, had had more than Maryland, at 3.
This 2008 report from the Alabama Policy Institute by Michael DeBow, Gary Palmer, and John J. Park, Jr. takes a critical view of the decrees’ use in institutional reform litigation (not specifically police), and comes with a foreword by Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the nominee to replace Loretta Lynch as Attorney General of the U.S. Speaking of which, there’s something so weird about some liberals’ eagerness to hand the keys to big-city police departments over to Mr. Sessions. It’s as if they think once Main Justice is calling the shots it won’t think of using that leverage on issues like, say, sanctuary cities.
[cross-posted from Overlawyered. Note also Reuters’ new investigation of police union contracts, and related coverage in the Baltimore Sun (McSpadden case), Ed Krayewski/Reason (three years to fire misbehaving cop), and more Sun (deadly effects of police slowdown)]
Filed under Policy, Scandals
Green-barrel insiderism brought down Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, but as close observers of Maryland policy know, Portlandia’s not the only place with these problems.
Another day of astounding revelations from the state-run Baltimore jail:
Officials at the Baltimore jail held “town hall meetings” with Black Guerrilla Family gang members to get tips on how to better operate the institution, a corrections officer told the FBI….
Angela Johnson, the officer, also told investigators that gang members were allowed to search other inmates for contraband, which they often kept for themselves.”
You have to wonder what it will take for the Martin O’Malley/Anthony Brown administration to begin shouldering responsibility for this scandal. Baltimore City Paper, which has been good on the scandal, noted in April, long after the scandal broke, that
O’Malley and his Corrections chief, Gary Maynard, who oversaw the gang takeover have even now done little to amend the systemic problems that made it almost easy for gang members to turn jail guards into their puppets.
Mid and upper Department of Correction management has remained relatively unscathed so far…
Earlier coverage of the scandal at Overlawyered; also see Charles Lane, City Journal.
In contrast to online media and the talk-show world, the metropolitan newspapers that define the old-line press have been caught flat-footed by the re-emergence of the IRS nonprofit targeting scandal (an exception: the Wall Street Journal opinion page). Last Friday it was disclosed that more than two years’ worth of external emails by former IRS nonprofit director Lois Lerner had been wiped out in a computer crash, and more recently it was revealed that email records of another half-dozen key players in the scandal have also been lost. The Washington Post ran only AP coverage of the June 13 revelation, while the New York Times did not go even that far, ignoring the story entirely for more than three days. Many other newspapers, too, played down the story with back-pages coverage or none at all. And no doubt one contributing factor was that as budgets have been cut in the newspaper business, many papers have gutted or even closed their Washington presence, and are willing to devote independent resources only to stories that involve some local angle.
But the IRS scandal does involve a local angle for citizens of many places, for a simple reason: individual members of Congress were among those pushing hardest for an IRS crackdown on politically adverse nonprofits. Democratic Senators from Michigan (Carl Levin), Illinois (Dick Durbin), New York (Chuck Schumer) and Rhode Island (Sheldon Whitehouse) were among those leading the pack, as, on the House side, were Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Elijah Cummings (both D-Md.) This is the crackdown that soon proved abusive, and one of the questions to be answered is whether the members of Congress were in direct touch with agency insiders seeking to make life difficult for the nonprofits. It’s known, for example, that Lois Lerner inquired of staff whether they had handled a request from Rep. Elijah Cummings regarding a conservative group he disliked by the name of True the Vote. Another agency email suggests that Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s appearance on a talk show may have been part of a public relations push coordinated both inside and outside the agency to build support for a crackdown.
Wouldn’t it make sense for the Frederick News-Post (whose circulation includes a large stretch of Van Hollen’s MD-8 district, and a small portion of Cummings’s MD-7) to look into these connections a little more closely? Or the other newspapers such as the Washington Post and Gazette papers?
Some links to get an editor started on Van Hollen’s role are here, here, here, here, and here.
Some links on Cummings’s role are here, here, here, here, here, and here.