The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Phoebe Plagens

Senior Communications Associate

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Statement on Report of Department of Justice on Baltimore Police Department


The United States Department of Justice issued a scathing report detailing a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). The report was issued after the Division engaged in a nearly one-year review of the BPD - an investigation requested by the City and numerous residents. The Civil Rights Division concluded that there is "reasonable cause to believe that the BPD engages in a pattern and practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law."

"The report released by Department of Justice (DOJ) has confirmed what many African American residents of Baltimore have known and lived too long," declared Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). "The findings in the report are devastating. 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. It's instructive that the DOJ identifies the legacy of "zero tolerance policing" as the key source of the systematic unconstitutional conduct of the Baltimore Police Department," continued Ifill.

The report details a devastating array of civil rights and constitutional violations:

  • There were 300,000 pedestrian stops between 2010 and 2015 in Baltimore, which has a population of 650,000; 44% of stops are in two Black neighborhoods. Only 3.7% of stops resulted in citation or arrest.
  • "Officers regularly approach individuals standing or walking on...sidewalks to question them and check for warrants without reasonable suspicion."
  • DOJ found "many instances in which [BPD officers] strip search individuals without legal justification."
  • "BPD searched African Americans more frequently during...stops even though searches of African Americans were less likely to discover contraband."
  • On excessive force "BPD officers fail to deescalate encounters... Officers frequently resort to physical force."
  • DOJ is concerned that BPD officers' "interactions with women victims of sexual assault and with transgender individuals display unlawful gender bias."

Just this week in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, Ifill predicted the imminent release of the DOJ report and the need for community groups to prepare to engage fully in the process of reform. Today Ifill urged "residents, community groups, and leading city institutions to marshal their resources and prepare for the long haul to find a way forward." Ifill, who lived in Baltimore City for 15 years, has spoken eloquently about the overwhelming frustration of city residents after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015 led to days of unrest. "I suspect," she suggested, "that the City's residents will need a few days to absorb the findings in this unsparing report. But then it will be critical to begin the hard work of ensuring that this federal investigatory process yields real and lasting change in Baltimore."

At the urging of LDF, DOJ investigated the relationship between BPD and the Baltimore School Police, whose officers have been the subject of criminal investigations for the excessive use of force against students. Its probe highlighted several concerns about the City's agreement with Baltimore City Public Schools to use school police as an "auxiliary force to BPD," including a lack of clarity about which agency's policies control decisions made during and after an incident; no procedures for investigating complaints of misconduct by school police; and poor data collection on arrests, stops, and searches made by school police. DOJ recommended that the BPD should take immediate steps to strengthen its agreements with agencies to which it has granted concurrent jurisdiction, including 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. "But, the BPD and Baltimore School Police must do more than simply strengthen their agreement. 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."

The Department of Justice credited the Baltimore Police Department for already undertaking key reforms, including revising its use of force policies and initiating increased communication with community leaders and residents. The BPD has embraced the reality that reform is necessary. LDF looks forward to working with the BPD in collaboration with Baltimore residents, the Department of Justice, and other stakeholders to develop a reform agenda that should be included in any agreement between the DOJ and Baltimore City officials.

Founded Feb. 12. 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.