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The Justice Department has found reasonable cause that the Baltimore City Police Department 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 Justice Department, in the new report, said 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.
The pattern or practice results from systemic deficiencies that have persisted within BPD for many years and has exacerbated community distrust of the police, particularly in the African-American community, the federal department said.
A news release from Justice said it entered into an agreement in principle with the city to work, with community input, to create a federal court-enforceable consent decree addressing the deficiencies found during the investigation.
“Public trust is critical to effective policing and public safety,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch stated. “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.”
She continued, “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.”
In May 2015, after considering requests from city officials and hearing from community members about a potential pattern or practice of constitutional violations, Lynch announced the investigation would take place.
The federal review focused on BPD’s use of force, stops, searches and arrests, and discriminatory policing.
Justice officials interviewed and met with city leaders and police officials, including BPD Commissioner Kevin Davis, former commissioners and numerous officers. Investigators also accompanied officers on ride-alongs, conducted hundreds of interviews and participated in meetings with community members, activists and others.
The review also involved looking through hundreds of thousands of pages of police documents, including all policies and training materials, internal affairs data and papers related to use of force, sexual assault cases and pedestrian stops, searches and arrests.
The department, according to the news release, found the legacy of “zero tolerance” street enforcement resulted in conduct that routinely violates the U.S. Constitution and federal anti-discrimination law.
The department found reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of:
• 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.
• Interfering with the right to free expression in violation of the First Amendment.
The department also identified serious concerns about other BPD practices, including an inadequate response to reports of sexual assault.
Another significant concern identified by the department was transport practices that place detainees at significant risk of harm.
In the agreement in principle, both parties agreed that compliance with the consent decree will be reviewed by an independent monitor.
The agreement in principle highlights specific areas of reform:
• 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.
• Community policing strategies to guide all aspects of BPD’s operations and help rebuild the relationship between BPD and the various communities it serves.