Earlier this month, Baltimore officials held a press conference to announce the damning conclusions in a Justice Department report on the city’s mistreatment of crime victims. The self-flagellation served a purpose, as the city paired the release of the report with announcements of a host of planned improvements in how crime victims interact with police and the justice system. But that wasn’t the full picture, the Baltimore Banner reports in a deeper look at the DOJ report’s backstory. The report examines warning signs that the city may not be true to the vow Mayor Brandon Scott made at the press conference to be “laser focused on conducting victim services better, and more meaningfully, than ever before” in order to improve community relations and combat violence.
The report, it turns out, was submitted in July 2021 but kept from the public and others working in victim services until recently – even as the city fought a lawsuit by a group of shooting victims who accused police of a pattern of confiscating and searching victims’ property as they lay in hospital beds. The practice alleged in that lawsuit was part of a larger system portrayed by the DOJ as heavy-handed treatment of victims, including handcuffing them to hospital beds and denying them financial aid. Heather Warnken, who led the DOJ review and now directs the University of Baltimore’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, said the year when the report was kept secret was time that could have been spent developing solutions with community partners. It also speaks to the city’s commitment to succeeding at the changes that have been announced, she said. “If you’re not having an honest conversation about how deep and complex these challenges are, you’re not setting even those proactive measures up for success,” Warnken said.