On Wednesday, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, reversed herself; she now wants the Department of Justice to conduct a civil rights investigation of her city’s police department.
Rawlings-Blake changed her mind after a meeting with new U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday. Lynch had sweet-talked Baltimore’s faith and community leaders, telling them, “We’re here to hold your hands and provide support.”
The hand-holding offer apparently worked; Rawlings-Blake capitulated after intoning only last week, “I invited the Department of Justice in here to reform our police department, to do collaborative reform. The only thing stronger than that is if they come in and do a consent decree. And nobody wants the Department of Justice to come in here and take over our city.”
But in her new letter to Lynch asking the DOJ to step in, the mayor wrote, “I am determined not to allow a small handful of bad actors to tarnish the reputation of the overwhelming majority of police officers who are acting with honor and distinction.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said on Wednesday that Lynch received the mayor’s request. Republican Governor Larry Hogan climbed on the bandwagon, asserting, “I think that’s probably a step in the right direction.” Baltimore’s police union president Gene Ryan and the City Council president agreed.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts had no comment. Rawlings-Blake had recruited Batts 2 and a half years ago, but the investigation could make him a target.
Last fall, Rawlings-Blake and Batts agreed for the Justice Department to conduct a review of the police department. But City Council President Jack Young argued that the measure meant nothing, saying, “The police commissioner could have said, ‘Well, now, I don’t want to do that,’ and he didn’t have to do it. In my opinion, it was a toothless tiger.”
Six Baltimore police officers face state charges in the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody. The charges run the gamut from assault to second-degree murder.
The mayor apparently wants a full-scale civil-rights probe from the DOJ analyzing the use of force by police and the methods used to search and arrest suspects.
The DOJ has been making a habit of investigating police departments; at least 20 police departments have been investigated in the last five years; less than 10 were investigated in the five years before that. In 2011, 17 active investigations into law enforcement agencies in the U.S. were being conducted by DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
The White House Press Secretary gushed of Lynch, “She has a very good understanding of the way that those law enforcement and prosecutorial enterprises should conduct themselves.”
The DOJ has been eager to confront police departments; Judicial Watch reported in 2014 that the DOJ spent at least $15,000 sending eight Community Relations Service agents to Ferguson at the request of the NAACP. Community Relations Service Director Ondray T. Harris admitted in 2010 that the agency had expanded its powers under Barack Obama after the passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.