Baltimore City Power Rankings: BPD

BPD

Last week, the Department of Justice released its report on Baltimore's police—and its findings were damning. In 163 pages, based on hundreds of interviews and thousands of document reviews, investigators concluded that the Baltimore Police Department "engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law," including "(1) making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests; (2) using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African-Americans; (3) using excessive force; and (4) retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression." The detailed report confirms what many already knew, statistically documenting the scope of the problem in irrefutable numbers, and lays the necessary groundwork for court-mandated reforms. The nation's eyes are on Baltimore's police; federal muscle means BPD must change its ways.

BPD

The DOJ report's most damning evidence of discriminatory police came with its "discretionary" policing activities like loitering. For example, BPD stopped roughly 300,000 pedestrians between 2010 and 2015. "These stops are concentrated in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and often lack reasonable suspicion," authors noted, with 44 percent of them taking place in two small black neighborhoods. (Hundreds of African-Americans were stopped more than 10 times; seven were stopped more than 30 times; one African-American man in his 50s was stopped 30 times in less than four years and released because officers never found him violating any law.) Indeed, "only 3.7 percent of the pedestrian stops resulted in officers issuing a citation or making an arrest." In the same period, prosecutors and Central Booking dropped 11,000 charges made by police because they lacked probable cause or didn't merit prosecution. The upshot from DOJ: "Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD's enforcement actions."

BPD

Long-held suspicions and firsthand experiences of BPD's mistreatment of transgender individuals were confirmed by the DOJ report. One instance stands out as particularly cruel: In December 2015, a transgender woman in police custody was repeatedly misgendered and harassed by officers, with one saying "I am not here for this shit. I am not searching that." Among the many horrific implications of this harassment, the DOJ notes that transgender individuals are too afraid to report crimes to the police—which is a huge problem, considering the incessant targeting of transgender women of color, in particular, in violent crimes.

BPD

The DOJ's report showed that BPD not only routinely blames sexual assault survivors when handling their cases, but also "seriously and systematically under-investigates" their cases—and that when it does, BPD's practices "significantly compromise the effectiveness and impartiality of its response to sexual assault." But it's more of what BPD doesn't do: police often fail to identify or interview suspects or witnesses (even when the person reporting the assault has "clearly identified" witnesses or suspects), to collect DNA or forensic evidence, or to test rape kits. BPD also doesn't take seriously sexual assault allegations made by sex workers—and some officers coerce sex workers into trading sex for immunity or cash. As the DOJ said: "This conduct is not only criminal, it is an abuse of power."

BPD

We would like to think young people and mentally handicapped people, some of our city's most vulnerable citizens, would be handled with a little more care during their encounters with the Baltimore Police Department. The DOJ report shows that you can't assume anything with the BPD. Justice Department investigators found that officers did not call crisis intervention officers to deal with people with mental illness, and that confrontations would frequently become "unnecessarily violent." And despite the International Association of Chiefs of Police issuing guidelines for dealing with juveniles, BPD "fails to adjust its tactics," which as the rest of the report indicates, leads to rights-violating arrests and stops.

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