A federal investigation of the Baltimore Police Department resulted in the release of a 164 single-spaced document, that confirmed what black residents have been saying for years: They are routinely singled out, roughed up or otherwise mistreated by officers, often for no reason. The Justice Department probe took approximately 15 months and was prompted by the death of Freddie Gray, the black man whose fatal neck injury in the back of a police van sparked the worst riots in Baltimore in decades.
The Justice Department looked at hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, including internal affairs files and data on stops, searches and arrests. It found that one African-American man was stopped 30 times in less than four years and never charged.
The data also revealed that from 2010 to 2015, out of the 410 people that were stopped at least 10 times, 95 percent were black. During that same time, no one of any other race was stopped more than 12 times.
After the release of the report, the city agreed to negotiate with the Justice Department a set of police reforms over the next few months to fend off a government lawsuit. The reforms will be enforceable by the courts.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis acknowledged the longstanding problems and said they had started improvements even before the report was completed. The government report depicted exactly how the city’s police officers carry out the most fundamental practices, including traffic stops and searches.
It found that officers make a large number of stops — mostly in poor, black neighborhoods — with dubious justification and unlawfully arrest citizens when officers “did not like what those individuals said.” Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said at a news conference alongside the mayor and police commissioner “These violations have deeply eroded the relationship between the police and community it serves.”
The Justice Department has undertaken similar investigations of the police in Chicago; Cleveland; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Ferguson, Missouri, among other cities. During the Baltimore investigation, federal investigators also interviewed residents, police officers, prosecutors, public defenders and elected officials, rode along with police on duty and reviewed documents and complaints.
Gupta said “Nearly everyone who spoke to us … agreed the Baltimore Police Department needs sustainable reform.” Among other findings: Blacks account for 63 percent of the city’s population and roughly 84 percent of all police stops.
From 2010 to 2015, officers stopped 34 black residents 20 times, and seven African-Americans 30 times or more. The report said in addition to pat-downs, Baltimore officers perform unconstitutional public strip searches, even of people not under arrest.
It said officers routinely use unreasonable force, including against juveniles and people who aren’t dangerous. The direction often came from the top: In one instance, a police supervisor told a subordinate to “make something up” after the officer protested an order to stop and question a group of young black men for no reason.
Baltimore police are trained in aggressive tactics that foster an “us vs. them mentality” toward the community, the report said.
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