The Justice Department has concluded its investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department. The investigation concluded that
“BPD engages in a pattern or practice of making unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans; using excessive force; and retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally protected expression.”
According to the report, these patterns are the result of systematic deficiencies in the department’s policies, training, supervision and accountability structure. The investigation found that the department fails to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively and within the bounds of the law.
Baltimore police’s legacy of zero tolerance enforcement is believed to drive policing in certain Baltimore neighborhoods. The investigation found that many supervisors “instruct officers to make frequent stop, searches and arrests.”
- Baltimore officers recorded over 300,000 pedestrian stops from January 2010- May 2015 concentrated in predominately African-American neighborhoods
- Roughly 44 percent of Baltimore police stops occurred in two small, predominately African-American districts that contain only 11 percent of the city’s population
- The review found that officers regularly approached individuals without reasonable suspicion. Only 3.7 percent of pedestrian stops resulted in a citation or arrest
The DOJ identified two categories of common unconstitutional arrests: “(1) officers make warrantless arrests without probable cause and (2) officers make arrests for misdemeanor offenses, such as loitering and trespassing without providing the constitutionally-required notice that the arrested person was engaged in unlawful activity.”
According to the report, from 2010-2015, more than 11,000 charges made by Baltimore police officers were rejected because they lacked probable cause or did not merit prosecution.
The investigation also found that the department’s targeted policing of certain neighborhoods disproportionately harms African-Americans. The report states that African-American residents were stopped three times as often as white residents and they were more likely to be stopped multiple times in short periods of time.
“In each of BPD’s nine police districts, African Americans accounted for a greater share of BPD’s stops than the population living in the district…In the five and a half years of data we examined, African Americans accounted for 95 percent of the 410 individuals BPD stopped at least 10 times.”
- African Americans accounted for 82 percent of all Baltimore police vehicle stops, compared to only 60 percent of the driving age population in the city
- Baltimore police searched African Americans more frequently during stops, even though those searches were less likely to discover contraband. Officers found contraband twice as often when searching white individuals during traffic stops
- African Americans accounted for 86 percent of all criminal offenses charged by Baltimore police officers, despite making up only 63 percent of Baltimore residents
- African Americans accounted for 91 percent of the 1,800 people charged solely with “failure to obey” or “trespassing”
- African Americans accounted for 89 percent of the 1,350 charges for making a false statement to an officer
- African Americans accounted for 84 percent of the 6,500 people arrested for “disorderly conduct”
In addition to unconstitutional stops and arrests and racial disparities, the investigation also found that the Baltimore Police Department engages in a practice of excessive force. The report cites use of overly aggressive tactics, excessive force against individuals with mental health disabilities, excessive force in a crisis, unreasonable force against juveniles and unreasonable force against people who present little or no threat to officers or others.
“Our concerns about BPD’s use of excessive force are compounded by BPD’s ineffective oversight of its use of force. Of the 2,818 force incidents that BPD recorded in the nearly six-year period we reviewed, BPD investigated only ten incidents based on concerns identified through its internal review. Of these ten cases, BPD found only one use of force to be excessive.”
Through the course of the investigation, the DOJ found that the Baltimore Police Department needs reform. The report also acknowledges that the current leadership of the city and Baltimore Police have taken steps to improve the department, specifically as it pertains to community policing and involvement.