Baltimore mayor requests Justice Department probe of police department

The Baltimore Police Department, which has been embroiled in controversy after 25-year-old Freddie Gray allegedly suffered fatal injuries while in police custody, will be the focus of a civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced during a Wednesday press conference.

“I am requesting the Department of Justice conduct a federal pattern or practice investigation in the Baltimore Police Department,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Such an investigation is essential if we are going to build on the foundation of reforms we have built over the years.”

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The “pattern or practice of conduct” investigation will be similar to Justice Department probes of the Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Ferguson, Missouri, police departments. Each of those investigations resulted in scathing reports that uncovered racially charged policing practices and civil rights violations by officers. The report of the Philadelphia Police Department, for instance, uncovered an inadequately training police force that routinely shot civilians and lacked a transparent review process for police-involved shootings.

Six Baltimore police officers involved in Gray’s arrest were indicted Friday on multiple charges ranging from “second-degree depraved heart murder” to misconduct in office. The charges were announced by State Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who is now overseeing the continuing investigation.

The Department of Justice under newly confirmed Attorney General Loretta Lynch is also conducting a separate, independent investigation into Gray’s arrest and subsequent death.

The probe Rawlings-Blake requested on Wednesday would focus on the Baltimore Police Department as a whole. “Just like with everything, every day, we seek to make sure that we are using all the resources we have available to get it right for the people of Baltimore,” she said. “We have to have a foundation of trust, and I believe we need the assistance of the Department of Justice and the civil rights investigation to shore up that foundation that’s weak right now in our city.”

The Justice Department investigation would also add to what the mayor described as ongoing efforts her administration has already taken to reform the department.

Those actions include dismantling the Violent Crimes Impact Section, which was the target of repeated citizens’ complaints. Rawlings-Blake added that her administration had recruited the Justice Department’s COPS program this past October “to launch a collaborative process to further enhance reforms.”

Under reforms which began before Gray’s arrest, police discourtesy complaints were down 53% and the police department was more effective in punishing officers for misconduct, she said.

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“Our department will have body cameras before the year’s end,” Rawlings-Blake added.

The mayor was also asked about a motion filed by one of the six officers indicted in the Gray incident. Officer Edward Nero’s attorneys believe that the “spring assisted, one hand operated knife” obtained during Gray’s April 12 arrest is not in fact legal — and therefore, Gray’s arrest was justified, reported NBC affiliate WBAL.

Rawlings-Blake declined to speak to Nero’s claims, instead insisting that all of the information involving Gray’s arrest was now being handled by the state attorney. “As for the specifics of any case, that’s out of my hands and it would be inappropriate to comment,” she said.

NBC News' Eric Ortiz contributed to this article.