After an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, the Justice Department has concluded that the department is guilty of unconstitutionally stopping, searching, and arresting African-Americans by doing so far more than they do other races. In addition, the Department of Justice found that Baltimore Police routinely use excessive force when dealing with minors, as well as those with mental illnesses.
In the wake of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore Police custody in 2015, the police department asked the Justice Department to investigate their practices. Freddie Gray died after suffering a fatal injury during his arrest and transport to the Baltimore police station. The final report, obtained by CNN on Tuesday, spans 163 pages, covers information collected from 2010 to 2016 in the form of over 500 interviews and hundreds of thousands of documents, and concludes that the Baltimore Police Department’s unconstitutional actions are a result of system-wide “deficiencies” in a multitude of areas including policies, training, supervision, and methods of accountability.
The federal civil rights report does not mention the behavior of the officers involved in the death of Gray, and comes just weeks after the charges against the last of those officers were dropped.
The investigation into the Baltimore Police Department found that the unconstitutional practice of stopping and arresting citizens stemmed from “zero tolerance” approaches to policing that were handed down by supervisors. The “zero tolerance” policies are practiced in specific neighborhoods and encouraged, regardless of whether an officer has reason to be suspicious of the people being stopped, searched, and arrested.
A disproportionate number of these stops by the Baltimore Police happened within two neighborhoods that represent only 11 percent of Baltimore’s population, but which were predominately African-American. Of those stopped, only 3.7 percent were cited or arrested. The Department of Justice report found that Baltimore’s African-Americans were discriminated against by the police department, who stopped African-Americans far more often than their population proportion would deem reasonable. In one case, a commander told a lieutenant in 2011 to “lock up all the black hoodies.”
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In addition, the Baltimore Police Department failed to properly train officers in de-escalation tactics nor to address matters relating to excessive force, causing the department to use physical force when unnecessary. The Justice Department report also found that Baltimore police officers tend to treat minors the same as they do adults and have no training in dealing with those with mental health issues.
The federal report also found that Baltimore police interfered with the First Amendment right of its citizens to record police actions by using excessive force or by deleting photos/recordings made of them while on the job. The police department also arrested people for using offensive or vulgar language, even though speech is protected as long as it is not deemed threatening.
The Baltimore Police Department were also called out in the report for gender bias while investigating sexual crimes. Rape kits are not requested by detectives in all cases where they are pertinent, and those samples that are collected remain untested. Specific behavior outlined by the Justice Department include blaming victims, not taking seriously complaints by those who work in the sex trade, and refusing to acknowledge a transgender woman as a woman.
In the cases where citizen rights were violated and reports were filed against the Baltimore police, NPR reports that the department actively worked to suppress the reports and, in many cases, discouraged them from being filed.
In the wake of the Justice Department’s report, Baltimore and federal officials will meet to work out details of a consent decree, enforceable by the courts, that will outline steps to be taken by Baltimore in an effort to reform their police department.
During a duel news conference with both Baltimore and Justice Department officials, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said, “Change is painful. Growth is painful. But nothing is as painful as being stuck in a place that we do not belong.”
The commissioner vowed a no-tolerance policy for police who “engage in racist, sexist, discriminatory, or biased-based policing.” He added that some officers who had been called out in the Department of Justice report for unconstitutional behavior had already been relieved of their duties.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said on Wednesday that the police department has already begun to create and implement new policies, as well as to make changes to existing policies. All told, Rawlings-Blake anticipates that reforming the police will cost Baltimore between $5 million and $10 million each year. The cost to reform the damaged trust and broken relationship between the Baltimore Police Department and the citizens it is sworn to protect is immeasurable.
[Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP Images]