DOJ Report Blasts Baltimore Police; Blames 'Zero Tolerance,' 'Systemic Deficiencies'

Craig Bannister | August 10, 2016
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Today, the Justice Department (DOJ) released a scathing indictment of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), accusing it of virtually every conceivable offense while blaming the BPD’s “zero tolerance” polices and “systemic deficiencies.”

The 163-page report of the DOJ investigation finds the BPD guilty of:

  • “Making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests,”
  • Discrimination against African Americans,”
  • “Use of constitutionally excessive force,”
  • Retaliation for activities protected by the First Amendment,”
  • Gender bias in sexual assault investigations,” and
  • Deficient policies, training, supervision, and accountability.”

“This pattern or practice is driven by systemic deficiencies in BPD’s policies, training, supervision, and accountability structures,” the report studying BPD practices from 2010 to 2016 concludes.

A “Zero tolerance” policing policy is one such systemic deficiency, the DOJ study finds:

“BDP leadership responded to the City’s challenges by encouraging ‘zero tolerance’ street enforcement that prioritized officers making large numbers of stops, searches and arrests – and resorting to force – with minimal training insufficient oversight from supervisors or through accountability structures.”

“BDP’s legacy of zero tolerance enforcement continues to drive its policing in certain Baltimore neighborhoods and leads to unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests.”

BPD’s zero tolerance policy is also blamed for creating the perception that there are “two Baltimores” – one white and one black – and fostering racial discrimination:

  • “The Department operates as if there are ‘two Baltimores’ in which the affluent sections of the City receive better services than its impoverished and minority neighborhoods. This fractured relationship exists in part because of the Department’s legacy of zero tolerance enforcement.”
  • “Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD’s enforcement actions,” the report finds:
  • “BPD stopped African-American residents three times as often as while residents,”
  • African Americans accounted for 95 percent of the 410 individuals BPD stopped at least 10 times,”
  • “African Americans similarly accounted for 86 percent of all criminal offenses charged by BPD officers despite making up only 63 percent of Baltimore’s residents.”
  • “BDP arrested African Americans for drug possession at five times the rate of others”
  • “Nor has the Department held officers accountable for using racial slurs or making other statements exhibiting racial bias.”

The report also charges that “BDP engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force,” especially against:

  • “Individuals with mental health disabilities or in crisis,”
  • “Juveniles,”
  • “People who present little or no threat,” and
  • Individuals fleeing on foot “not suspected of violent crimes.”

“BDP engages in gender-biased policing in violation of federal law” – particularly regarding sexual assault cases, “those involved in the sex trade,” and transgender individuals – the report finds.

DOJ’s study also charges that Baltimore police excessively perform pat-downs, frisks – and even public strip searches:

‘Even when the initial frisk is justified, officers often violate the Constitution by exceeding the frisk’s permissible scope. We likewise found many instances in which officers strip searched 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.”

To address the myriad of charges detailed in the report, the city of Baltimore and the DOJ have crafted an agreement in principle to institute reforms.