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In the Media: DOJ Investigation of City Police Released, Exposes Routine Violation of Civil Rights


A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Guardian: ‘Two Baltimores’: DoJ investigation into police finds vast racial disparity

"The Baltimore police department regularly conducted unlawful stops and used excessive force on residents of the city, federal officials found in a civil rights probe.

"The damning findings by the US justice department (DoJ), set to be officially announced Wednesday, identify a 'pattern or practice' of unconstitutional conduct in the city.

"The justice department launched its investigation into the city’s policing a month after Freddie Gray’s death last year. Gray, a 25-year-old African American man, died a week after he was arrested from a spinal injury sustained while he was held in the back of a police van. The city erupted in weeks of unrest, including numerous mass demonstrations against police brutality and a day of rioting.

"The report found a vast racial disparity in enforcement, especially in stops, searches, and discretionary misdemeanor arrests. African Americans, for instance, account for 91% of 'failure to obey' and trespassing charges, and over 80% of charges such as making a false statement to an officer or disorderly conduct, even though they account for roughly 60% of the population. African Americans were arrested for the possession of drugs more than five times as frequently as their white counterparts, although drug use, the report notes, is roughly the same.

"Justice department officials found that residents believe there are 'two Baltimores' including 'one wealthy and largely white, the second impoverished and predominantly black', the report reads. 'Community members living in the City’s wealthier and largely white neighborhoods told us that officers tend to be respectful and responsive to their needs, while many individuals living in the City’s largely African-American communities informed us that officers tend to be disrespectful and do not respond promptly to their calls for service. Members of these largely African-American communities often felt they were subjected to unjustified stops, searches, and arrests, as well as excessive force.'

"The report documented extensive evidence of these perceived racial disparities. It found that over a five year period, African Americans accounted for 95% of people stopped by police more than ten times. One African American man, according to the report, was stopped 30 times in less than four years. 'Despite these repeated intrusions, none of the 30 stops resulted in a citation or criminal charge,' the report states.

"This finding falls into a nationwide debate about unfair traffic stops of African Americans after the deaths of Sandra Bland in Texas last year and Philando Castile in a Minnesota traffic stop last month. Although Castile had been stopped 46 times, only six of those were for offenses that an officer could have seen before stopping the car.

"The report traced these police practices back to the 'zero tolerance' policies of the late 1990s, which 'led to repeated violations of the constitutional and statutory rights, further eroding the community’s trust in the police'.

"Although the report notes that the police department has made progress, it is clear that the 'legacy of zero tolerance enforcement continues to drive its policing in certain Baltimore neighborhoods and leads to unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests'.

"The report concludes that 'BPD’s systemic constitutional and statutory violations are rooted in structural failures'."

Full Article

From the Baltimore Sun: DOJ report will likely start years of costly reform efforts in Baltimore

"The conclusion by the Justice Department that the Baltimore Police Department routinely violated people's civil rights is expected to launch a reform process that is likely to take years and cost tens of millions of dollars.

"Dozens of similar reviews around the country suggest a road map for the city.

"In some cases, senior police officials have found that the threat of court action has helped prod officers' unions to accept changes and persuade local officials to pay for improvements. But in others, court oversight has continued for a decade or more as departments have struggled to meet the targets laid out by the Justice Department.

"Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus of criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska, has studied police departments that have been reviewed by the Justice Department. He said the conclusion of the investigation is only a first step.

"'It's the beginning of a reform process that hopefully will change how the Baltimore police operate with some new professional standards that hopefully will result in lawful, constitutional policing,' Walker said.

"City and federal officials now are expected to negotiate a settlement to be presented to a federal judge. That document — it could be a memorandum of understanding or a consent decree — could spell out more than a hundred targets for the police department to meet.

"The Justice Department report says the city has reached an 'Agreement in Principle' with federal authorities, outlining the broad strokes of a deal.

"If negotiations break down, the Justice Department could sue the city to force changes.

"Cities have found that making changes is not cheap. Cleveland officials estimated that implementing the consent decree will cost $45 million over five years. The Seattle Police Department reported spending $12.8 million in its first two years working to meet the terms of a Justice Department civil rights settlement."

Full Article

From the Baltimore Sun: Federal Police Investigations part of Obama Legacy

"President Barack Obama has vowed to push for criminal justice reform in his final months in office. But analysts say his Justice Department has already made a legacy-defining imprint on policing.

"Relying on a sweeping federal law drafted 22 years ago by then-Sen. Joe Biden, the Obama administration has pursued about two dozen civil rights inquiries into local police such as the one focused on the Baltimore Police Department to be released on Wednesday.

"'This is the one tool that the Department of Justice has been able to use to advance comprehensive police reform in some of our most troubled communities,' said Kanya A. Bennett of the American Civil Liberties Union. 'This is the one resource that does not rely on bipartisan agreement to get something accomplished.'

"The long-awaited Justice Department report on Baltimore, which comes more than a year after the death of Freddie Gray from spinal injuries suffered in police custody set off riots in the city, concludes that officers routinely violated constitutional rights — an impact that fell disproportionately on black residents.

"Despite high-profile cases of African-Americans dying in interactions with police in Ferguson, Mo., New York and Chicago — and now deadly attacks on officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge — there has been little movement to advance criminal justice legislation in Congress. The issue has become further politicized by a presidential election in which Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are at odds over policing.

"That has left the administration with few options with which to deal with troubling questions about race and inequality that have grown more pronounced during Obama's second term.

"A White House task force on policing last year recommended better reporting of police-involved shootings, de-escalation training for officers and stronger relationships with communities, but those recommendations are not binding and do not address problems in individual police departments.

"It is not that the Obama administration has opened significantly more of the civil rights investigations — the number is roughly equivalent to those launched under the previous administration, according to a list of cases provided by the Justice Department — but rather how those inquiries are being closed.

"Under President George W. Bush, the Justice Department was more likely to rely on informal agreements to try to address systemic problems. Under Obama, the government is more likely to seek court intervention or monitoring by a third party."

Full Article


Read the document: U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department