“The Justice Department announced today that it found reasonable cause to believe that the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution as well as federal anti-discrimination laws.” – United States Department of Justice
Sixteen months after the death of Freddie Gray, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a 163-page report outlining the various and multiple abuses found within the Baltimore Police Department. The report finds “systemic deficiencies” at virtually every level that, through the years, has resulted in police disproportionately targeting black residents and violating their constitutional rights and federal anti-discrimination laws.. African-American residents were subject to thousands of unconstitutional stops and searches, some involving excessive use of force, and those who spoke up faced retaliation.
A few of the more blatant incidents found were:
- Between 2010 – 2014, roughly 44% of 111,500 police stops occurred in two small, predominantly African-American neighborhoods that account for only about 11% of the city’s population.
- Police publicly strip-searched a woman after a traffic stop for a missing headlight.
A sergeant instructed a cop to stop a group of young African-American men on a street corner, question them, and order them to disperse. The officer protested that he had no valid reason for the stop. The sergeant replied, “Then make something up.”
“Public trust is critical to effective policing and public safety,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “Our investigation found that Baltimore is a city where the bonds of trust have been broken, and that the Baltimore Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful and unconstitutional conduct, ranging from the use of excessive force to unjustified stops, seizures and arrests.”
“The department also identified serious concerns about other BPD practices, including an inadequate response to reports of sexual assault, which may result, at least in part, from underlying gender bias. Another significant concern identified by the department was transport practices that place detainees at significant risk of harm.”
This is all very well and fine, but a report only identifies the problems. In order to have value, it must be used to drive changes that will reduce or eliminate the problems. So, what is next for the City of Baltimore? “Federal and city officials said Wednesday that they have reached the outlines of what will become a court-enforced agreement on how to remedy the widespread problems in the Police Department. The final negotiations are expected to be completed by Nov. 1.” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake anticipates a total cost for planning and implementing the necessary changes between $5 million and $10 million. Few details are available at this time, but the DOJ framework recommends a number of areas that must be addressed, including:
- Policies, training, data collection and analysis to allow for the assessment of officer activity and to ensure that officers’ actions conform to legal and constitutional requirements;
- Technology and infrastructure to ensure capability to effectively monitor officer activity;
- Officer support to ensure that officers are equipped to perform their jobs effectively and constitutionally; and
- Community policing strategies to guide all aspects of BPD’s operations and help rebuild the relationship between BPD and the various communities it serves.
Last month, Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Officer Caesar R. Goodson, one of six Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the murder of Freddie Gray. It was the 2nd acquittal by Judge Williams in the case, another having ended in a mistrial. Shortly thereafter, charges were dropped against the remaining officers, ensuring that Freddie Gray would receive no justice, that his death would go unpunished. I like to think that as a part of the future planned changes, Judge Williams’ rulings will also be subject to review.
While there can be no justice for Freddie Gray, his death was the catalyst that may bring changes benefiting future generations of African-Americans in the city of Baltimore. I wonder, if the DOJ were to perform this type of intense investigation into other cities, what they would find? That is not likely to happen, as such an investigation is time-consuming and costly, and the Department of Justice, like every other, has limited resources. However, one can hope that this will serve as a warning and a wake-up call to other cities to do their own investigation and better monitor and manage their law enforcement agencies, so that we do not have another Freddie Gray, or Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, or Michael Brown. One can hope.