In 2017, The Root reported that the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore reached an agreement on a consent decree to ensure that the city and Baltimore Police Department “protect individuals’ statutory and constitutional rights, treat individuals with dignity and respect, and promote public safety in a manner that is fiscally responsible and responsive to community priorities.”
The decree—which came on the heels of a DOJ investigation into the BPD prompted, in part, by the 2015 in-custody death of Freddie Gray, as we previously reported—served as an order for the city to implement sweeping police reform. According to a new report published by the American Civil Liberties Union, however, the decree has not been appropriately honored going on four years later.
According to ABC Baltimore, the ACLU report, titled “Chasing Justice,” found that between 2015 and 2019, there were 13,392 complaints of misconduct filed against 1,826 Baltimore City police officers. The report also states that things haven’t improved much over the last year.
In the last 12 months, the report said 20 percent of Baltimore City officers were accused of police misconduct, while stating 6 percent of officers made up more than 30 percent of the complaints.
In those same years, the report said out of 22,884 use of force incidents, more than 90 percent of the resident[s] involved were black residents who represent about 63 percent of the city’s population.
After the death of Freddie Gray, the Department of Justice found Baltimore Police violated the civil rights of its residents, specifically its black residents. BPD agreed to a consent decree to reform the department in 2017.
“The report only validates what so many black residents have known about these officers for years and decades,” said Joe Spielberger, who is the public policy counsel of the ACLU of Maryland and author of the “Chasing Justice”.
Indeed, none of this is likely to shock Black people in Baltimore or anywhere else in America. Not many Black people are going to clutch their pearls after learning that the Maryland ACLU found that “police officers used force twice as often in the majority Black Southwestern District, as in the majority white Northern District.” We won’t exactly be flabbergasted to learn that “less than 10% of force was used in self-defense or to make an arrest” or that “most arrest charges after a use of force incident were low-level, non-violent charges.” Still, at a time when there’s a national spotlight on systemic racism in policing, reports like these need to be exposed, otherwise, we’re effectively taking our feet off of the neck of our racist justice system before meaningful changes are made.
The ACLU report was conducted by reviewing BPD data made available through Project Comport, a tool for law enforcement agencies to report data that includes misconduct complaints. Through that database, researchers were able to identify more than 100 officers who had more than a dozen misconduct complaints filed against them, including Wayne Jenkins, the convicted ringleader in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. Jenkins had 227 complaints filed against him, according to the report.
Baltimore City Councilman Mark Conway, who is also the chairman of the Public Safety and Government Operations Committee, told WBAL 11 News in a statement that “the ACLU’s report today confirms that the issues which prompted the 2016 U.S. Department of Justice report and subsequent federal consent decree persist.”
“For Baltimore to end this epidemic of violence, residents must have confidence that their interactions with police will be above board and that complaints are taken seriously no matter who they are or who the officers are,” Conway continued. “The Public Safety and Government Operations Committee will hold the first dedicated council hearing on the federal consent decree on Feb. 3. I expect this report will come up, and I look forward to hearing the commissioner’s thoughts on it and how we can ensure officers who fall short of their duty to protect and serve are held fully accountable.”