Justice Department Report: Baltimore Police Routinely Violated Civil Rights

Del Quentin Wilber and Kevin Rector, Baltimore Sun, August 9, 2016

Baltimore police routinely violated the constitutional rights of residents by conducting unlawful stops and using excessive force, according to the findings of a long-anticipated Justice Department probe to be released Wednesday.

The practices overwhelmingly affected the city’s black residents in low-income neighborhoods, according to the 163-page report. In often scathing language, the report identified systemic problems and cited detailed examples.

The investigators found that “supervisors have issued explicitly discriminatory orders, such as directing a shift to arrest ‘all the black hoodies’ in a neighborhood.”

They also found that black residents were more likely to be stopped and searched as pedestrians and drivers even though police were more likely to find illegal guns, illicit drugs and other contraband on white residents.

Police practices in Baltimore “perpetuate and fuel a multitude of issues rooted in poverty and race, focusing law enforcement actions on low-income, minority communities” and encourage officers to have “unnecessary, adversarial interactions with community members,” the report said.

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Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Tuesday that he is looking forward to reviewing the federal findings and that the report will help him improve the force.

“We have begun this journey to reform long-standing issues in many real, tangible ways,” Davis said. “DOJ’s findings will serve to solidify our road map.”

Among the Justice Department findings: Baltimore police too often stopped, frisked and arrested residents without legal justification, and such activities fell disproportionately on black residents.

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The report noted that officers recorded more than 300,000 pedestrian stops from January 2010 to May 2015. Roughly 44 percent were made in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain 11 percent of the city’s population, and seven black men were stopped more than 30 times each.

Black pedestrians were 37 percent more likely to be searched by Baltimore police citywide and 23 percent more likely to be searched during vehicle stops. But officers found contraband twice as often when searching white residents during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops, the report notes.

The report also found that Baltimore police routinely misclassified citizen complaints about racial slurs used by officers.

In six years of data on citizen complaints, only one complaint was classified as a racial slur. “This is implausible,” the federal investigators found, and so they went back to the complaints and searched for keywords, including racial slurs against blacks.

They found 60 additional complaints that alleged Baltimore officers “used just one racial slur–‘n—-r’–but all of these complaints were misclassified as a lesser offense,” the report found.

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Officers frequently used excessive force in situations that did not call for aggressive measures, the report said, and routinely retaliated against residents who were criticizing or being disrespectful of police for exercising their right to free speech and free assembly.

The report found that officers used excessive force against individuals with mental health disabilities or in crisis. Because of “a lack of training and improper tactics,” police ended up in “unnecessarily violent confrontations with these vulnerable individuals,” the report said.

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The investigation concluded that deeply entrenched problems were allowed to fester because the department did not properly oversee, train or hold officers accountable. For example, the report said, the department lacks systems to deter and detect improper conduct, and it fails to collect and analyze data that might root out abuses or abusers.

The report said the Police Department also lacks effective strategies for recruitment and retention. A lack of adequate staffing meant “forcing officers to work overtime after long shifts, lowering morale, and leading to officers working with deteriorated decision-making skills.”

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