Baltimore police understaffing is in a "crisis" five years after the department entered a federal consent decree, says Judge James Bredar, who is overseeing the case, CBS Baltimore reports. The decree followed the death of Freddie Gray after he was placed in the back of a police van that officers purposefully drove wildly to injure him, and protests surrounding Gray's death. At the hearing, U.S. Department of Justice officials said the police department has made progress, but staffing remains a major concern. “We are not the same department we were five years ago, not the same department we were three years ago, not the same department we were 10 years ago,” said Police Commissioner Michael Harrison. In 2015, when Gray was killed, DOJ said Baltimore officers routinely violated citizens’ constitutional rights. Then, in 2017, police department was rocked by revelation of actions undertaken by the department's Gun Trace Task Force, a group of officers who was mainly found to have robbed and extorted suspected drug dealers. Members of the task force were also found to have stolen cash from homes and cars they searched, some of which belonged to innocent civilians.
DOJ seems to think the Baltimore Police Department has put this sort of corruption behind it as a result of enhanced accountability measures and training practices. “Officers are performing better, you’re seeing more work being done, you’re seeing less force, fewer complaints, better investigative processes and while there are things that happen—because things always happen, the department is responding responsibly for things that are brought to our attention,” Harrison said. Even though the department has made progress in many crucial categories, recruiting and retaining officers continues to be a problem. The department is nearly 400 officers short despite a $60,000 starting salary. The judge said that without adequate staffing, the department will not reach the benchmarks required by the consent decree.