Baltimore Police: Racially Biased, Routinely Unconstitutional

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Baltimore police officers routinely engage in unconstitutional searches and arrests, excessive force, and profiling of black people, says a report from the Department of Justice presented on Wednesday morning.

The 163-page report says this pattern exists because of “systemic deficiencies in BPD’s policies, training, supervision, and accountability structures that fail to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively and within the bounds of the federal law.”

Unconstitutional stops and arrests

The report is not a pleasant read. While people living in the wealthy, predominantly white areas of Baltimore describe the police as responsive and respectful, individuals in the poor, mainly black neighborhoods, on the other hand, describe the police as disrespectful and not responsive to their calls. They are also often targeted for unjustified stops and searches.

The DOJ’s report presents numbers on how many black people were stopped, often without reasonable suspicion. In fact, many were stopped when simply standing or walking on the city’s sidewalks. In the report, an image of a police department permeated with racial bias emerges.

Black people accounted for 95 percent of the 410 people who were stopped 10 times or more in the five and a half year period of data collection. One man, in particular, was stopped 30 times in less than 4 years, without ever being charged with a crime.

The frequent disregard for the Constitution through mass stops, searches, and arrests seem to be due to the  “zero tolerance” policy from the 1990s, which rewarded officers who make a lot of arrests.

The Baltimore Police also may have been biased against women when handling sexual assault cases. Officers failed to properly and meaningfully investigate cases of sexual assault and also to collect and corroborate evidence supporting the women’s accounts. While the DOJ did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that policing in Baltimore amounted to gender-bias in violation of federal law, some bias appears to have affected officers’ handling of sexual assault cases.

What’s next?

The Department of Justice launched the investigation in the spring of 2015, after the death of Freddie Gray. Reforms to make necessary changes will probably cost tens of millions of dollars and may take several years. The next step in the process is for city and federal officials to negotiate a settlement and present it to a federal judge. The settlement will include a list of requirements that the Baltimore Police Department will need to meet in the coming years.

A positive note is that everyone the DOJ investigators talked to during the investigation agreed that the BPD needs major reforms, even current police officers and city leaders. The DOJ said it will talk to local residents to take their opinions into account during the later stages of negotiation.

“There’s going to be a lot of folks with a lot of ideas about what needs to happen now in the community and in law enforcement, and it’s been really important to us to be able to hear directly from community members,” Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, said to the Baltimore Sun.

Emma Von Zeipel
Emma Von Zeipel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. She is originally from one of the islands of Stockholm, Sweden. After working for Democratic Voice of Burma in Thailand, she ended up in New York City. She has a BA in journalism from Stockholm University and is passionate about human rights, good books, horses, and European chocolate. Contact Emma at



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