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A protester walks through tear gas as police enforce a mandatory, city-wide curfew of 10pm on April 28, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

DOJ Report on Baltimore Police Is 'Stunning Catalog of Discrimination'

'The findings lay bare the harsh reality of discriminatory policing in a major American city'

Deirdre Fulton

The relationship between Baltimore residents and their police force is "broken," according to a new U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report that details a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in the Baltimore Police Department (BPD).

The DOJ civil rights probe, launched in the wake of Freddie Gray's 2015 killing, found that Baltimore police routinely violated residents' constitutional rights by using excessive force, making unlawful stops and arrests, and "using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches, and arrests of African Americans."

The document—which will be officially released Wednesday and was leaked to news outlets Tuesday night—pinned the blame on "systemic deficiencies at BPD," including failure to provide officers with sufficient training and to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

The Baltimore Sun reported:

The investigators found that "supervisors have issued explicitly discriminatory orders, such as directing a shift to arrest 'all the black hoodies' in a neighborhood."

They also found that black residents were more likely to be stopped and searched as pedestrians and drivers even though police were more likely to find illegal guns, illicit drugs and other contraband on white residents.

Police practices in Baltimore "perpetuate and fuel a multitude of issues rooted in poverty and race, focusing law enforcement actions on low-income, minority communities" and encourage officers to have "unnecessary, adversarial interactions with community members," the report said.

"Officers seemed to view themselves as controlling the city rather than as a part of the city," the DOJ said.

For many, the report's conclusions merely support the community's long-standing calls for reform

Indeed, Baltimore state's attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement Tuesday that the report "will likely confirm what many in our city already know or have experienced first hand."

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), similarly declared: "The report released by Department of Justice has confirmed what many African American residents of Baltimore have known and lived too long."

"The findings in the report are devastating," she said. "Taken together, the findings lay bare the harsh reality of discriminatory policing in a major American city—from discriminatory stops, arrests, and searches to the use of excessive force."

The LDF highlighted the DOJ's finding that "the City has essentially used the Baltimore School Police as an auxiliary force to BPD," which raises concerns about which agency's policies control decisions made during and after an incident; lack of procedures for investigating complaints of misconduct by school police; and poor data collection on arrests, stops, and searches made by school police.

"We suspected that the BPD provided little to no oversight of school police officers who patrolled city streets," commented Monique Dixon, LDF's deputy director of policy and lead attorney for its Policing Reform Campaign.

However, she said, merely strengthening inter-agency agreements isn't enough to fix the problem. "The Baltimore school board should conduct its own assessment of school police, require data collection and training, including in adolescent development and de-escalation, and develop a complaint process and other accountability systems," Dixon said.

As the Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday, the BPD is now expected "to launch a reform process that is likely to take years and cost tens of millions of dollars."

The New York Times notes that "Baltimore is among nearly two dozen cities that the Obama administration has investigated after they were accused of widespread unconstitutional policing," including Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland; and Newark, New Jersey.

USA Today reporter Brad Heath was tweeting egregious excerpts from the report, calling it "a stunning catalog of abuse and casual discrimination":


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