The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division released the results of its investigation on the Baltimore Police Department, and their findings can be summed up simply: Racial disparities are present at every stage of BPD's actions.
The investigation found that the department did everything from illegally strip searching people in public to using excessive force against mentally ill people. And when officers themselves spoke up against discriminatory policies, nothing changed. The report really speaks for itself, no commentary needed. So here, REVOLT highlights 15 maddening statements from the 164-page document; all are direct quotes.
1. BPD’s pedestrian stops concentrated on a small portion of Baltimore residents.
"BPD made roughly 44% of its stops in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain only 11% of the city’s population. Seven black men were stopped more than 30 times from 2010–2015."
2. BPD’s stops often lacked reasonable suspicion.
"Officers regularly approach individuals standing or walking on city sidewalks to detain and question them and check for outstanding warrants, despite lacking reasonable suspicion to do so. Only 3.7% of pedestrian stops resulted in officers issuing a citation or making an arrest."
During stops, BPD officers frisked people without identifying necessary grounds to believe the person was armed and dangerous.
"We likewise found many instances in which officers strip search individuals without legal justification. In some cases, officers performed degrading strip searches in public, prior to making an arrest, and without grounds to believe that the searched individuals were concealing contraband on their bodies."
Driving while black was real:
"African-Americans accounted for 82% of all BPD vehicle stops, compared to only 60% of the driving age population in the city and 27% of the driving age population in the greater metropolitan area. ... BPD searched African-Americans more frequently during pedestrian and vehicle stops, even though searches of African-Americans were less likely to discover contraband. Indeed, BPD officers found contraband twice as often when searching white individuals compared to African-Americans during vehicle stops and 50% more often during pedestrian stops."
BPD implemented a “zero tolerance” policing strategy for petty infractions.
"This strategy encouraged officers to take discretionary enforcement actions, including stops, searches, and arrests for misdemeanor offenses like loitering and disorderly conduct. As described above, this enforcement strategy focused on African-Americans and predominantly African-American neighborhoods for discretionary enforcement actions, and it led to officers frequently stopping, searching, and arresting individuals without the required constitutional justification."
In some cases, supervisors issued explicitly discriminatory orders, such as directing a shift to arrest “all the black hoodies” in a neighborhood.
"And when officers have expressed concerns about such directives, the Department has failed to take corrective action. Officers patrolling predominantly African-American neighborhoods routinely receive orders to “clear corners” by stopping or arresting African-American youth standing on sidewalks. This practice has continued despite concerns raised by officers themselves, who have told BPD leadership that these actions lack legal justification, are time-consuming, and counterproductive."
BPD repeatedly failed to investigate complaints of racial bias.
"In the approximately six years of complaint data we received from BPD, we found only one complaint that BPD classified as a racial slur. This is implausible. By manually reviewing and performing text searches on BPD’s complaint data, we found 60 more complaints that alleged that BPD officers used just one racial slur — “n**r” — but all these complaints were misclassified as a lesser offense."
There were large racial disparities in BPD’s arrests for drug possession.
"While survey data shows that African-Americans use drugs at rates similar to or slightly exceeding other population groups, BPD arrested African-Americans for drug possession at five times the rate of others."
The use of excessive force was rampant:
"Officers frequently resort to physical force when a subject does not immediately respond to verbal commands, even where the subject poses no imminent threat to the officer or others. Second, BPD uses excessive force against individuals with mental health disabilities or in crisis. Third, BPD uses unreasonable force against juveniles. ... Specifically, BPD uses excessive force against (1) individuals who are already restrained and under officers’ control and (2) individuals who are fleeing from officers and are not suspected of serious criminal offenses." Sounds familiar, right?
BPD violated the First Amendment by retaliating against people engaged in constitutionally protected activities, like protesting.
"Officers frequently detain and arrest members of the public for engaging in speech the officers perceive to be critical or disrespectful. And BPD officers use force against members of the public who are engaging in protected speech."
There was gender bias against women and trans victims:
"We found indications that officers fail to meaningfully investigate reports of sexual assault ... including failing to gather evidence or document their investigative steps."
BPD failed to adequately supervise officers through policy guidance and training.
"Until recently, BPD lacked sufficient policy guidance in critical areas, such as bias-free policing and officers’ use of batons and tasers."
The department simply doesn't have the needed resources to function:
"BPD fails to adequately support its officers with adequate staffing and material resources. The Department lacks effective strategies for staffing, recruitment and retention, forcing officers to work overtime after long shifts, lowering morale, and leading to officers working with deteriorated decision-making skills. Moreover, BPD lacks adequate technology infrastructure and tools that are common in many similar-sized law enforcement agencies, such as in-car computers."
The city of Baltimore itself has issues that complicate policing, such as environmental racism and its effects:
"The city has nearly three times the national rate of lead poisoning among children. This burden weighs heaviest on poor, African-American communities."
And its high violence rate creates a tense environment, too:
"On a per-capita basis, 2015 was the deadliest year in Baltimore’s history with 344 homicides. The city’s overall gun violence increased more than 75% compared to the previous year, with more than 900 people shot."