The Department of Justice (DOJ) finally released its investigation into the Baltimore Police Department — and it is scathing.
The City of Baltimore initiated the investigation following the death of a Black man in police custody last year. Twenty-five-year-old Freddie Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury after his arrest in April 2015, but none of the officers who arrested or detained him were found responsible. Gray's death — and the resulting trials — sparked outrage across the country.
Now, the DOJ's report is holding the entire police department responsible — for instituting policies and practices the violate the U.S. constitution. The DOJ found the police department violated the Constitution in four different ways:
First, the Baltimore Police Department routinely engaged in unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests.
The DOJ found officers frequently stop residents without reasonable suspicion that they are breaking the law. Baltimore officers also search residents for weapons without reasonable suspicion that they are armed.
These practices lead to a huge number of unwarranted arrests. Since 2010, booking officials and state prosecutors declined to charge more than 11,000 Baltimore residents arrested by the BPD. Investigators estimate the Baltimore Police Department made roughly 412,000 stops in 2014 alone.
Investigators traced these expanding numbers to the 1990s "zero tolerance" policies, in which officers were encouraged to make frequent stops, searches and arrests in order to deter crime. This attitude — that more arrests mean less crime — seems to permeate the department. One officer even wrote on Facebook that the "solution to the murder rate is easy. Flex cuffs and a line at [Central Booking]."
And zero-tolerance policies aren't unique to Baltimore. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani instituted the city's first zero-tolerance policies in 1993, and credited them for the dropping crime rate. But less than ten years later, The New York Times pointed out the policy's horrific human toll.
"This arrest-first policy has filled the courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders who do not belong there and wreaked havoc with people's lives," wrote Brent Staples. "Even when cases are dismissed, people can be shadowed for years by error-ridden criminal records."Riding on the "success" of zero-tolerance policing in New York, it has been implemented in cities worldwide.
A disparate number of the Baltimore PD's stops, searches, and arrests target African Americans.
Investigators found officers made disproportionately more stops and searches of African-American residents, leading to a larger number of unwarranted arrests. In other words, they found evidence of racial profiling within the Baltimore Police Department.
"Statistical evidence shows that the Department intrudes disproportionately upon the lives of African-Americans at every stage of its enforcement activities," the investigators wrote.
More disturbingly, the Justice Department also found that officers are more likely to use excessive force on African-Americans. Nearly 90% of the excessive force cases reviewed involved an African-American suspect.
These findings confirm many of the complaints of African-Americans in Baltimore — and around the country — that they are unfairly targeted by officers in their community. Nationwide, African Americans are nearly six times more likely to be incarcerated as whites, and 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police. While movements like Black Lives Matter have sprung up to draw attention to these issues, this is the first time a national department has documented it.
Investigators found that use of excessive force is actually encouraged within the department.
A culture of aggression and reliance on force pervades the Baltimore PD, according to the report. Officers used force most with African-American suspects, but also disproportionately with juveniles and those with mentally illnesses.
"BPD trains officers to be aggressive," the investigators wrote, "inculcating an adversarial mindset in its recruits and teaching them to, for example, point a weapon at unarmed and innocent civilians to control a scene."
For many, Gray's death exemplified this aggressive attitude. State prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said officers handcuffed Gray, loaded him into a police van head-first, and denied requests for his inhaler. Gray suffered the spinal injury that killed him during this van ride.
"This failure is quite concerning," the investigators wrote. "The Department's inability to maintain the files for officers' firearms discharges reflects a serious deficiency in the oversight of officers' uses of deadly force."This inconsistent record-keeping persists nationally, as well. In fact, no outlet has been able to name the exact number of people killed by police this year. The Department of Justice announced August 9 plans to begin tracking all "arrest-related deaths" nationally, in order to better hold police departments accountable.
Finally, the report showed officers repeatedly arrested residents exercising their free speech rights.
Investigators found a pattern of cases in which officers arrested those exercising their first amendment rights. They routinely arrested suspects for using profanity — saying "fuck you," or calling officers "assholes" — which doesn't constitute a crime.
The report detailed one incident where an officer tasered a man for aggressively approaching him while swearing. Officers didn't describe the man's "aggressive approach," but his mouth is listed as the sole weapon/means of attack.
"These uses of force in retaliation for protected speech violate the first and fourth amendments, and they undermine public confidence in the BPD," the investigators concluded.
Investigators also discovered a troubling pattern when looking into how officers handled sexual assault cases.
The DOJ found evidence of gender discrimination and victim-blaming, even within the departments' sex offense unit. Detectives repeatedly tried to fault victims for their own assaults, even asking survivors, "Why are you messing that guy's life up?"
Investigators also found a culture of skepticism regarding sexual assault reports — especially when sex workers made those reports. Investigators unearthed one email conversation in which a prosecutor told an officer, "This victim seems like a conniving little whore."
"Lmao! I feel the same," the officer replied.
Despite these discouraging findings, investigators are hopeful the department can be reformed.
The investigators said many officers recognized the system's flaws in the system, were invested in making change.
In fact, Baltimore police commissioner Kevin Davis said the department is already working to improve the situation.
"We have begun this journey to reform long-standing issues in many real, tangible ways," he said Tuesday. "DOJ's findings will serve to solidify our road map."