Nearly seven years to the day since the Baltimore Police Department first entered federal oversight, it has cleared two major hurdles in exiting it: coming into compliance with two sections of its lengthy agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Police Department has been deemed to have reached “full and effective compliance” with two provisions of its federal consent decree relating to the transportation of people in custody and officer assistance and support, according to a Tuesday court filing. The city and its Police Department must maintain compliance for another full year before the sections are terminated from the agreement.

The news was tucked away in a court filing ahead of a press conference on Wednesday featuring Police Commissioner Richard Worley, Mayor Brandon Scott, the city’s top attorney, Ebony Thompson, and others.

During the press conference, officials spoke about ongoing collaborations between state, local and federal partners. This is the first time in nearly seven years that officials have been able to jointly find BPD and the city in compliance on two of the topics outlined in the consent decree.

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Worley said he knows “firsthand” there’s still more work to be done within the department, but that they’ve “remained steadfast in their commitment to fully comply” with the consent decree.

The development is a significant milestone for the Police Department, which has undergone an array of policy changes, training, and other reforms that have largely remade the agency since it first began working toward compliance on its decree.

But there are still more than a dozen “key provisions” left, including some areas where the department is lagging, such as the section requiring data analysis on police stops, searches and other interactions.

The federal judge overseeing the department’s agreement canceled the last quarterly hearing, and a reshuffling of the Police Department administration following the departure of former police commissioner Michael Harrison and his right-hand, Deputy Commissioner Eric Melancon, has left question marks around who will lead the agency out of the decree’s final stretch.

In the last consent decree hearing, U.S. Judge James Bredar urged the agency’s leadership to push harder for progress on several fronts, and said the Police Department would need to start producing data to back that up.

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When it comes to producing data on police interactions, the agency has been mired in delays due to issues with Axon, the private vendor in charge of retooling its electronic records management system.

Still, the milestone on Tuesday represents some long-awaited progress that cuts to the core of why the Police Department ended up in a consent decree to begin with. Policies and practices for how Baltimore Police transport people in custody was at the heart of the incident that sparked the DOJ’s investigation — the death Freddie Gray in 2015 from injuries sustained while in police custody.

Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott said this was not only a “crucial, but a significant” step in the right direction for BPD.

As of December, a quarter of all paragraphs of the consent decree have been given a rating as being in initial compliance and another 60% of all paragraphs of the decree are on-track for initial requirements, Scott said.

“When I released my administration’s comprehensive violence reduction plan, I made implementation of the consent decree mandated reforms are a key part of our broader holistic approach and efforts to effectively address violence in our communities,” Scott said.

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“The only way we’re able to improve public safety is by doing it the right way. And we know that we proved that it can be done that way last year,” he added.

The department’s agreement with the DOJ stated that “safe and effective transportation of detainees is an essential step in the process of taking a person into custody and must be conducted in a manner that protects the wellbeing and personal security of officers, the public, and the people being transported.”

The other provision of the agreement relates to the programs and resources offered to police officers, such as the employee assistance program, counseling and mental health assistance, peer support services, and protocols for officer health and well-being following traumatic incidents.

A monitoring team report from December 2023 found the department’s progress in that area to be “noteworthy, important, and commendable.”

Shannon Sullivan, the department’s director of Consent Decree Implementation Unit, said next week a public quarterly meeting will “extensively” address officer safety, as well as collecting data on stops and searches.

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“I know that it’s been a frustration for some, for us too. Getting that data right is really important,” Sullivan said Wednesday.

Baltimore Banner investigative reporter Justin Fenton and Banner reporter Penelope Blackwell contributed to this report.

Ben Conarck is a criminal justice reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Previously, he covered healthcare and investigations for the Miami Herald and criminal justice for the Florida Times-Union.

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