BALTIMORE (AP) — A federal judge refused Wednesday to delay a hearing on a proposed agreement to overhaul the Baltimore Police Department, calling the Trump administration's request a "burden and inconvenience."
The Justice Department asked for a delay earlier this week, saying it needed time to review the plan and determine whether the proposal would hinder efforts to fight violent crime. U.S. District Judge James Bredar said the hearing would go on as scheduled Thursday.
Hundreds of people are expected to testify about the court-enforceable agreement and special security measures have been put into place, the judge said.
Pushing back the hearing at the last minute would be a "burden and inconvenience to the court, other parties, and most importantly, the public," the judge said.
Bredar noted that it was "highly unusual" that both the city and the Justice Department had requested the hearing to allow Baltimore residents to publicly comment on the proposed consent decree. To accommodate the throngs of people, other judges cleared their dockets for the day, and the hearing was widely advertised, the judge said.
"The primary purpose of this hearing is to hear from the public," he wrote. "It would be especially inappropriate to grant this late request for a delay when it would be the public who were most adversely affected by a postponement."
Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior declined comment.
The Justice Department opened an investigation into allegations of misconduct in the Baltimore Police Department in 2015, after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken in a police transport wagon, plunged the city into civil unrest. The agency published a scathing report outlining widespread abuse including excessive force, unlawful stops and discriminatory practices.
Last month, dozens of organizations and about 50 people submitted 195 pages of written comments on the proposed agreement, which the city reached with the Justice Department during the last days of the Obama Administration. Newly minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo this week announcing his intention to review all existing consent agreements.
The Justice Department's request to postpone the hearing was met with fierce opposition from city officials, including Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who both vowed that they will press on with police reform regardless of what happens with the consent decree.
But Davis and Pugh stressed that a court-enforceable agreement will enable the department to implement those reforms.
On Wednesday, Pugh applauded the judge's decision, and encouraged residents to show up and speak their minds.
"The city of Baltimore is ready to move forward to rebuild the important relationship which exists between the community and our police department," she said in a statement. "I hope citizens will take advantage of this opportunity to have their voices heard."