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Baltimore Mayor Asks Feds To Investigate Police Department

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has asked the Justice Department to open up a civil rights investigation into the city's police department.

"Such an investigation is essential if we are to build on the foundation of reform," she said during a news conference.

Over the past couple of weeks, Baltimore has seen near-daily protests over the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spine injury in police custody. Those protests boiled over into a night of riots.

Rawlings-Blake said that while her administration has worked to reform a troubled police department, "it is clear more needs to be done."

If the Justice Department decides to comply with Baltimore's request, the investigation would look at the Baltimore Police Department's patterns and practices of policing. It would look at whether police in the city have violated the civil rights of its residents.

A similar investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., police force concluded that officers in that city often used discriminatory policing practices against African Americans.

The Baltimore Police Department has long been in the limelight. ABaltimore Sun investigation, for example, found that over the course of four years the city paid $5.7 million to settle lawsuits with more than 100 people claiming that police officers used excessive force.

Rawlings-Blake said she asked for the investigation because she "willing to do what it takes to reform this department."

One huge issue, she said, is the lack of trust between the community and police. A federal investigation could help bridge that gap, she said.

The Justice Department, she said, "understands the urgency of the request" and "I do not believe they will delay an answer."

Rawlings-Blake's request comes a day after Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited the city. The Justice Department has already opened an investigation into the death of Freddie Gray.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.