The Chatter

Key Takeaways from DOJ Investigation into Baltimore Police Department

Mayor, police commissioner, and DOJ officials meet at City Hall to discuss the findings report.

This morning, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, and the head of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta held a press conference at City Hall to discuss the 163-page report of the DOJ’s investigation into the Baltimore City Police Department. The investigation was launched following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who died from spinal injuries suffered in police custody.

According to Gupta, investigators talked to residents from “every corner of Baltimore, from Roland Park to Sandtown.” Officials interviewed command staff and rank and file officers; participated in ride alongs in each police district; met with leaders of police unions, religious organizations, advocacy groups, and neighborhood associations; and reviewed their reports and publications. The findings will form the basis for the first steps toward a negotiated settlement, or a “consent decree,” in which police training and practices will be overhauled under court supervision.

The official report has been released to the public, and the following are key takeaways, changes that the city plans to implement, and reaction from local politicians and community leaders.

Baltimore police routinely violated civil rights, which disproportionately affected the city’s black residents.

“African Americans bore the brunt of the civil rights violations,” DOJ’s Gupta said this morning at the press conference.

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 just 11-percent of the city’s population, and African Americans accounted for 95-percent of the 410 individuals the police department stopped at least 10 times. 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.

“It troubles me to read how frequently the Baltimore City Police Department has engaged in various disturbing patterns or practices,” said Congressman Elijah Cummings in a statement, “including excessive use of force and unjustified and severe disparities in the rates of stops, searches, and arrests of African Americans.”

Officers frequently used excessive force in situations that did not call for it.

“We also found a pattern of practice of excessive force,” Gupta said. “Officers frequently resorted to physical force when a person did not immediately respond to verbal commands, even when the person was posing no immediate threat to the officer or others. Officers were ending up in unnecessary violent confrontations with people with mental health disabilities.” The report also noted that officers also routinely used unnecessary force against juveniles, implementing the “same aggressive tactics they use with adults.”

The system hasn’t allowed officers to be properly overseen, trained, or held accountable.

“This report is not an indictment of every man and woman in the Baltimore Police Department,” Police Commissioner Davis stated. Additionally, the report heavily detailed that many officers are not properly trained, due to lack of emphasis on training and lack of infrastructure. “BPD lacks adequate staff to train its officers efficiently; its training facilities are outdated, ill-repaired, and often unable to accommodate modern training methods; and BPD lacks mechanisms to track officer attendance and performance to ensure that officers receive and understand the training they need to engage in safe, effective, constitutional policing,” the report said.

The DOJ also noted that accountability, or lack thereof, is a major problem primarily because the department lacks adequate systems to investigate complaints, discourages the public from filing complaints, and fails to consistently document the results of its investigations.

Baltimore police have been negligent in cases of sexual assault.

In the report, investigators said they were “troubled” by the fact that Baltimore Police detectives showed an “an undue skepticism of reports of sexual assault.” Examples included negligence in testing rape kits, making minimal effort to locate suspects, and mistreatment of women victims and transgender individuals in sexual assault cases. In general, the report states, that the Baltimore Police Department’s investigative policies make it “more difficult to uncover the truth when sexual assault allegations are made.”

“Change is painful. Growth is painful. But nothing is more painful than being stuck in a place where we don’t belong,” said Commissioner Davis. “Some actions have no negotiations attached to them, and that includes racial discrimination, sexual orientation, or any kind of bias-based policing.”

Baltimore City is revamping its approach to officer accountability.

“It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be quick, but I’m committed to reform,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake said at the press conference this morning. According to a statement released by the mayor, the city has already revised 26 key police department policies, most notably its use of force policy. “We are now training all officers on these new policies, and we have held additional trainings on key issues that Justice has identified,” the statement said. The statement also explained that the city will continue to adapt how the use of force by officers is reviewed and how officers are disciplined.

Initiatives are underway to improve the Police Department’s transparency and community engagement.

“I regard this as government doing what it should have already been doing,” said Councilman Brandon M. Scott. “It’s like a huge taste of ‘too little, too late.’”

The idea of improved transparency and creating a community dialogue is something that has been continuously stressed by the Mayor and Police Commissioner. Initiatives such as more officers on foot and community patrols have already taken place. The Mayor also mentioned that the city is exploring implementing more citizen inclusion in the department’s disciplinary process, particularly looking at the resources allocated for the Civilian Review Board.

Baltimore City is investing to modernize the Police Department.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said that the city “doesn’t have a blank check,” but anticipates spending $5-$10 million per year on DOJ implementation. Some of that spending will surely be invested in technology and infrastructure to modernized the department.”

Already, the mayor said in a written statement, “the BPD has begun retrofitting transport vans to improve safety for occupants and officers as well as installing recording cameras inside the vans.” She also mentioned that the department has completed a body-worn cameras pilot program and will roll out cameras for all officers within the next two years.