Two weeks after a Baltimore prosecutor dropped charges against the remaining officers awaiting trial in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, the US Department of Justice on Wednesday released a scathing 163-page report on its investigation into the policies and practices of the Baltimore Police Department.
The DOJ interviewed hundreds of Baltimore residents, as well as officers and other police officials. It also reviewed training materials, data on pedestrian and vehicle stops, data on arrests between 2010 and 2015, and use-of-force reports going back more than five years. It found that Baltimore officers routinely engaged in unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests—overwhelmingly involving African Americans—and that the department’s policies encourage officers to have “unnecessary, adversarial interactions with community members.” The report calls on the department to address “racism” within its ranks. The investigation’s key findings include:
- Baltimore police officers disproportionately targeted black residents for stops, searches, and arrests. Baltimore police recorded 300,000 pedestrians stops from January 2010 to June 2015. Eighty-five percent of those stopped were black, though blacks comprise 63 percent of Baltimore’s total population. Even though officers found contraband 50 percent more often on white pedestrians and twice as often during vehicle stops of white residents, blacks pedestrians were 37 percent more likely to be stopped than white ones, and black drivers were 23 percent more likely to be stopped than white drivers. Blacks had a higher rate of arrest than any other group.
- Baltimore cops conducted nearly half of their stops in two predominantly black areas. Fourty-four percent of all stops were made in two of the city’s police districts—both predominantly black. These areas contain just 11 percent of the city’s total population. More than 400 people were stopped more than 10 times in a five-and-a-half-year period—95 percent of whom were black. Seven people—all of them black—were stopped more than 30 times. One African American man in his mid-50s was stopped 30 times, yet none of the stops resulted in citations or criminal charges. And less than four percent of all stops made by Baltimore officers resulted in a citation or criminal charges.
- Baltimore officers arrest black residents for “highly discretionary offenses” at disproportionate rates. Black people accounted for 91 percent of all those charged solely with trespassing or failure to obey; 89 percent of people charged for making false statements to an officer; and 84 person of those charged with disorderly conduct. Blacks were also five times as likely to be arrested for drug charges as white people despite comparable rates of drug use. Officers often arrest people who are standing in front of private businesses or public housing projects, the report notes, unless they are able to satisfactorily “justify” their presence there. Moreover, from 2010-2015, BPD supervisors and local prosecutors rejected charges that cops made against black people at significantly higher rates than they did charges made against people of other races, “indicating that officers’ standard for making arrests differed for African Americans,” the report said. Baltimore supervisors and prosecutors dismissed 11,000 charges during that time period.
The DOJ also found that Baltimore cops are inadequately trained, supervised, and disciplined. In one incident reviewed, a BPD shift supervisor instructed officers to arrest “all the black hoodies” in a neighborhood. The DOJ found 60 incidents where a black complainant alleged an officer had used a racial slur, but which was then classified as a lesser offense by Baltimore police supervisors. The DOJ also determined that Baltimore cops regularly failed to appropriately secure arrestees when transporting them in police vehicles, and that the department needs to update its vehicle equipment to ensure passengers’ safety. (Freddie Gray died after his spinal chord was partially severed when he was place in the back of a police vehicle and handcuffed and shackled at the legs, but without a seatbelt.)
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake announced that the police department would implement 26 policies toward reform, and that the department was actively looking to build “constructive citizen inclusion” into the department’s process for reviewing police misconduct. Department transport vehicles have also been outfitted with new safety equipment, including cameras, she said, and the department started a new body camera program. Rawlins-Blake added that all Baltimore police officers would have body cameras within two years.