DOJ: Baltimore Police Department Systemically Discriminates Against Black Citizens

By Kenrya Rankin Aug 10, 2016

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a report today (August 10) that says the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) consistently violates the rights of the city’s Black citizens. The agency is currently negotiating a consent decree with the city aimed at addressing the department’s shortcomings, which a DOJ statement identifies as the following:

The department found reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of:

  • Conducting stops, searches and arrests without meeting the requirements of the Fourth Amendment;
  • Focusing enforcement strategies on African Americans, leading to severe and unjustified racial disparities in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Safe Streets Act;
  • Using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
  • Interacting with individuals with mental health disabilities in a manner that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
  • Interfering with the right to free expression in violation of the First Amendment.

The DOJ opened the investigation in May 2015, just a few weeks after Freddie Gray died from injuries sustained while in BPD custody. The 164-page report is based on the review of departmental policy and training manuals, data on stops and arrests, incident reports for situations where officers used both non-deadly and deadly force, as well as officer ride-alongs and interviews with community members and local activists. The department has been working with the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) since October 2014, and it released an updated use of force policy last month. But as today’s report says, “significant challenges remain.”

Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said the following, via a statement:

We found that BPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of serious violations of the U.S. Constitution and federal law that has disproportionately harmed Baltimore’s African-American community and eroded the public’s trust in the police. The agency also fails to provide officers with the guidance, oversight and resources they need to police safely, constitutionally and effectively. In communities across America, even in communities where trust has been broken, we’ve seen transformative reform rebuild relationships and advance public safety. In the weeks ahead, as we negotiate our consent decree with the city, we will seek input from law enforcement and community members.  With the city and commissioner’s commitment to reform, I am optimistic that we will work to drive that same progress in Baltimore.

The statement also outlines the areas of reform that the consent decree will include:

  • 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.

The DOJ is also asking for members of the Baltimore community to send comments to be included in the negotiations via