DOJ: Baltimore is a city where the bonds of trust have been broken
BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- After an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) the Justice Dept. (DOJ) says it found reasonable cause to believe that it “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.”
The report states, in part, that the BPD “makes stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; uses enforcement strategies that unlawfully subject African Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; uses excessive force; and retaliates against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression.”
Principal Deputy Assistant Atty. Gen. Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, joined Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis to brief the public on the findings Wednesday morning.
“These findings are difficult to hear,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake said in opening statements.
In detailing the DOJ findings Gupta commended city leaders for their "collaborative and cooperative partnership" and noted that “nearly everyone who spoke to us” agreed the BPD “needs sustainable reform,” adding that the DOJ recognized the challenges faced by police officers in Baltimore City.
“Providing policing services in many parts of Baltimore is particularly challenging,” she said. “Baltimore residents just like Baltimore Police officers want to address these challenges.”
In its report the DOJ says it found reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of the following items:
- 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 report states that it also found serious concerns about BPD practices including:
- An inadequate response to reports of sexual assault, which may result, at least in part, from underlying gender bias.
- Transport practices that place detainees at significant risk of harm.
“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,” said Gupta. “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.”
A consent decree will now be reviewed by an independent monitor. The agreement has highlighted specific areas of reform 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.
The BPD will also conduct community outreach, looking for input on reforms. Anyone wishing to provide suggestions can email Community.Baltimore@usdoj.gov.
“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 results of our investigation raise serious concerns, and in the days ahead, the Department of Justice will continue working tirelessly to ensure that all Baltimoreans enjoy the safety, security and dignity they expect and deserve. I am grateful to all of the community members, local officials, faith leaders and current and former police officers who spoke with us during the course of our inquiry, and whose input will remain critical to our efforts as we move forward. Additionally, I commend the city and BPD for its proactive and collaborative approach to our inquiry and for demonstrating a strong commitment to restoring public confidence by already taking steps to make needed changes. I look forward to continuing our work together to implement urgent and necessary reforms.”
The DOJ Civil Rights Division investigation was launched in May 2015 after requests from city officials following the death of Freddie Gray one week after his arrest and the resulting civil unrest.
The investigation included interviews with police officials, city leaders and former commissioners as well as ride-alongs in every police district.
The DOJ also took part in meetings with community members and activists and analyzed BPD data.
[Mobile users: CLICK HERE to read the full DOJ report]
[Mobile users: CLICK HERE to read the agreement between the US and the City of Baltimore regarding the BPD]
THE FULL PRESS CONFERENCE WILL BE UPLOADED HERE SHORTLY.