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Baltimore Police Department 'Embraced Reform' But Needs To Overcome Staffing Woes, DOJ Says In Consent Decree Progress Report

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- This month marks five years since the Justice Department started monitoring the Baltimore police department after the uprising following Freddie Gray's death.

Thursday, all the parties involved met in person with the judge to give a status update on the progress the police department has made.

After the uprisings following Freddie Gray's death, a scathing federal report showed that officers routinely violated citizens' rights - and in some cases, they did it while investigators were observing their actions.

Thursday, at U.S. District Court, Department of Justice officials said the police department has made major 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," says Commissioner Michael Harrison.

To understand the progress, you have to take a look back prior to the 2015 uprising that rocked the city after Freddie Gray's death.

Back then, the DOJ said Baltimore officers routinely violated citizens' constitutional rights and it was "deeply deeply troubling".

The embarrassment of a group of corrupt officers - known as the Gun Trace Task Force - also came up in court, but the DOJ said over the past few years, Baltimore police embraced reform.

The Baltimore Police department implemented measures that would hold bad cops accountable, and the DOJ said training practices for officers are better now.

"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, getting and keeping officers remain a problem. The Baltimore Police Department is nearly 400 sworn officers short despite a $60,000 starting salary. The judge called the staffing shortage "a crisis."

"We are still hiring, there is a great push and a lot of money being spent to get the best officers," Commissioner Harrison said.

Despite all the progress, the judge also said without adequate staffing, the department will not reach the benchmarks that are required in the consent decree.

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