The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) has been under fire for its overly violent and discriminatory practices and the death of Freddie Gray while in their custody led to the rioting of last year. While that violence was condemned, the circumstances of his death prompted a federal investigation into the BPD and the report by the US Department of Civil Rights was released on Wednesday .It paints a devastating portrayal of a police department that has normalized discriminatory practices on a massive scale.
You can read the full report here and it is simply appalling. I present here just some items from the report but I cannot do justice to the report with just a few such snippets.
BPD officers recorded over 300,000 pedestrian stops from January 2010–May 2015, and the true number of BPD’s stops during this period is likely far higher due to under-reporting. These stops are concentrated in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and often lack reasonable suspicion.
BPD’s pedestrian stops are concentrated on a small portion of Baltimore residents. BPD made roughly 44 percent of its stops in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain only 11 percent of the City’s population. Consequently, hundreds of individuals—nearly all of them African American—were stopped on at least 10 separate occasions from 2010– 2015. Indeed, seven African-American men were stopped more than 30 times during this period.
BPD’s stops often lack reasonable suspicion. Our review of incident reports and interviews with officers and community members found that officers regularly approach individuals standing or walking on City sidewalks to detain and question them and check for outstanding warrants, despite lacking reasonable suspicion to do so. Only 3.7 percent of pedestrian stops resulted in officers issuing a citation or making an arrest.
While a significant portion of these arrests reflect BPD’s efforts to combat violent crime in Baltimore City, more than 25,000 arrests were for non-violent misdemeanor offenses for which officers have significant discretion about whether to make an arrest. BPD arrested approximately 6,500 people for disorderly conduct, 4,000 for failing to obey a police officer, 6,500 for trespassing, 1,000 for “hindering” or impeding, 3,200 for “interference,” 760 for being “rogue and vagabond,” and 650 for playing cards or dice.
BPD officers routinely violate these standards by detaining and questioning individuals who are sitting, standing, or walking in public areas, even where officers have no basis to suspect them of wrongdoing.
In addition to impermissible Terry frisks, our investigation found many instances in which BPD officers strip-searched individuals without justification—often in public areas— subjecting them to humiliation and violating the Constitution.
In one of these incidents— memorialized in a complaint that the Department sustained—officers in BPD’s Eastern District publicly strip-searched a woman following a routine traffic stop for a missing headlight. Officers ordered the woman to exit her vehicle, remove her clothes, and stand on the sidewalk to be searched. The woman asked the male officer in charge “I really gotta take all my clothes off?” The male officer replied “yeah” and ordered a female officer to strip search the woman. The female officer then put on purple latex gloves, pulled up the woman’s shirt and searched around her bra. Finding no weapons or contraband around the woman’s chest, the officer then pulled down the woman’s underwear and searched her anal cavity. This search again found no evidence of wrongdoing and the officers released the woman without charges. Indeed, the woman received only a repair order for her headlight. The search occurred in full view of the street, although the supervising male officer claimed he “turned away” and did not watch the woman disrobe.
One item in the report stuck in my mind.
BPD disproportionately stops African-American pedestrians… And BPD is far more likely to subject individual African Americans to multiple stops in short periods of time. In the five and a half years of data we examined, African Americans accounted for 95 percent of the 410 individuals BPD stopped at least 10 times. One African American man in his mid-fifties was stopped 30 times in less than 4 years. Despite these repeated intrusions, none of the 30 stops resulted in a citation or criminal charge. [My italics-MS]
It reminded me of a sketch from the 1980s British comedy show Not the Nine O’Clock News, except that it is not funny when the reality is worse the satire.
Here’s the sketch in question. (The ‘SPG’ referred to at the end of the sketch is an elite police unit known as the Special Patrol Group.)