Dept. of Justice Accuses Baltimore Police of Engaging in 'Conduct That Violates' the Constitution

The DOJ investigation was prompted by the death of Freddie Gray.

ByABC News
August 10, 2016, 12:32 PM

— -- The Baltimore Police Department engaged in a “pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution and federal anti-discrimination law,” the Justice Department said today in announcing a consent decree between the city and the federal government.

The federal investigation found that Baltimore’s African-American residents suffer unfairly under a “zero tolerance” policing philosophy that routinely uses "overly aggressive tactics that unnecessarily escalate encounters."

Indeed, the investigation found that "African-Americans accounted for 86 percent of all criminal offenses charged by BPD officers despite making up only 63 percent of Baltimore residents."

“These violations have deeply eroded the mutual trust between BPD and the community it serves, trust that is essential to effective policing, as well as officer and public safety,” Vanita Gupta, the head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in announcing the reform agreement at a joint news conference today with Baltimore officials.

The DOJ investigation was prompted by the case of Freddie Gray, who died from injuries he sustained while being transported in a Baltimore police van in April of 2015. DOJ investigators reviewed the conduct of the department’s officers going back to 2010, interviewing police, city officials, residents and community leaders.

What DOJ investigators found was a stark portrait of racial inequality in policing.

Data uncovered during the probe found that the police department made roughly 44 percent of its stops in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain only 11 percent of the city’s population.

African-Americans accounted for 95 percent of the 410 individuals the police department stopped at least 10 times. One African-American man was stopped 30 times in less than four years, with none of the stops resulting in a citation or criminal charges.

The investigation also found that the policing resulted in the perception that there are “two Baltimores,” one white and well-served by the police, and one black that was abused by the police. The report identified a litany of widespread and systematic problems in Baltimore policing, including: ”making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests, and 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.“

In addition, the report found a troubling lack of accountability when officers were suspected of misconduct. Of the 2,818 use of force incidents that BPD recorded in the nearly six-year period the Justice Department 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.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pledged full cooperation with federal recommendations, and said the city has already begun overhauling the department in the 15 months since Gray’s death, revising “26 key policies, including the department’s use of force.”

She also said the city is now retrofitting transport vans to improve safety, including the installation of cameras in the vans. Improved officer training and a major technology upgrade also will give police the tools they need to improve performance, according to the mayor.

“It’s so very important we get this right,” the mayor said at the joint press conference. “The report's assessment and its follow-up to it will help us to heal the relationship between the police and our communities.”

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he was “very, very concerned" about the information in the report, and said action has been taken against some police officers in regard to the "more egregious" acts described by investigators. Some officers were fired, he said, others disciplined.

"Change is painful,” Davis said, “but nothing is as painful as being stuck in a place that we do not belong."

He promised that the department would police in a "lawful and respectful way."

"Fighting crime and having a better relationship with the community are not mutually exclusive," he added.

The agreement announced today identifies the kinds of police reforms that will be negotiated between the city and the federal government.

That negotiation will result in a court-enforceable, independently monitored consent decree, according to DOJ’s Vanita Gupta.

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