October 7, 2014 / 3:05 PM / 5 years ago

Baltimore officials outline plans to reduce police brutality

(Reuters) - Baltimore officials outlined plans on Tuesday to reduce police brutality that is the target of a federal investigation and the cause of millions of dollars in lawsuits.

The report released by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said it aims to close a rift between the eighth-biggest U.S. police force and Baltimore’s 625,000 residents, almost two-thirds of them black.

The key elements of preventing abuse are through training, the setting of strict rules and stringent enforcement of them, the 41-page report titled “Preventing Harm” said.

“When bad actors have impunity, the good cops become demoralized and the bad ones are emboldened,” it said.

The report cites an investigation by the Baltimore Sun newspaper that showed residents have suffered broken bones during arrests.

Baltimore, the setting for such gritty crime dramas as “The Wire,” has paid $5.7 million in court judgments and settlements in 102 civil lawsuits involving police since 2011, the Sun reported. Nearly all of those arrested in cases leading to those suits had their charges dismissed.

Batts is seeking to increase staff in the internal affairs division, which handles allegations of misconduct. He also wants to study equipping officers with video body cameras, and the City Council is weighing a measure that would require officers to wear them.

Batts, who became police commissioner in September 2012, also wants to negotiate with the police union to get more authority to punish rogue officers quickly.

Batts said on Friday that he had asked the federal Department of Justice to review the department after reports of excessive use of force and misconduct.

The president of the Baltimore’s unit of the Fraternal Order of Police, Robert Cherry, has criticized the probe as making the city less safe. The Sun on Monday quoted Cherry as saying officers would be fearful about being second-guessed.

Baltimore has already taken steps to curb brutality, and the number of fatal police shootings has fallen from 45 in 2007 to 13 so far this year.

The conviction rate for police disciplinary boards reached 89 percent this year, up from 57 percent in 2012, the report said.

Even though Baltimore has paid out about $2.64 per resident from 2007 to 2011 in civil suits against police, the figure is well below that for Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago, it said.

Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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