The Department of Justice’s scathing report on the Baltimore Police Department spelled out in exacting detail how the BPD violated the constitutional rights of black residents through a series of brutal and abusive tactics that basically had a community under siege.
Perusing the pages of the report is like reading some bizarro crime novel, where the criminals wear badges and carry guns, all with a license to abuse and victimize black Baltimore residents, who have little recourse and few resources to defend themselves.
And the DOJ made it clear that it wasn’t just a few “bad apples”—the culture of abuse was sanctioned, supported and protected up and down the department’s chain of command.
If you can stomach it, read the entire report (pdf). Here’s a sampling of some of the worst acts by the BPD contained within it.
The DOJ found that the BPD routinely conducted unconstitutional strip searches, often in full view of the public. One of the most egregious searches involved a woman pulled over for a simple traffic stop for a missing headlight. The woman’s race is never mentioned, but the likelihood that she was white is pretty slim. As the DOJ noted, there were “two Baltimores,” where wealthy, white residents were treated “respectful” by BPD and found the department “responsive to their needs.” For the mostly poor, black residents? Not so much.
After the woman was stopped, the report goes into excruciating detail:
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.
The male officer was only mildly reprimanded.
2. Sergeant tells officer to make up a reason to stop a group of black men … even while DOJ investigators are in the car (Page 30).
Let the DOJ tell it:
During a ride-along with Justice Department officials, a BPD sergeant instructed a patrol officer to stop a group of young African-American males on a street corner, question them, and order them to disperse. When the patrol officer protested that he had no valid reason to stop the group, the sergeant replied “Then make something up.” This incident is far from anomalous.
To be clear: A superior officer tells a subordinate to just flat out violate the constitutional rights of a group of black men, all while the DOJ investigators are with them to investigate whether the BPD is violating residents’ constitutional rights. That’s just f—ked up.
Detaining citizens for no reason is standard operating procedure for the BPD, according to the DOJ, which found “a widespread pattern of BPD officers stopping and detaining people on Baltimore streets without reasonable suspicion that they are involved in criminal activity.”
On a cold night in January 2013, officers stopped a black man wearing a hoodie in a so-called high-crime area. Although the officer had no reason to stop the man, the officer “thought it could be possible that the individual could be out seeking a victim of opportunity.” Several officers showed up and began questioning the man and seized a knife that he admitted he was carrying.
When the man asked for his knife back, officers ordered him to the ground and attempted to handcuff him. As two officers tried to handcuff him, the man began resisting arrest and another officer began hitting him with his fist, striking him in the face, ribs and back. Another officer arrived and tased the man twice. After the man was finally handcuffed, he was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment. He was ultimately never charged with any crime.
In addition to its racially biased and abusive tactics, the BPD’s handling of sexual assaults “raised serious concerns of gender-based policing,” including questioning victims in a manner that blamed them for their assaults. Failure to believe victims’ claims was commonplace. Included in the report was an email in which a BPD officer and a prosecutor expressed disbelief of a victim’s sexual assault claims: “[T]he prosecutor wrote that ‘this case is crazy … I am not excited about charging it. This victim seems like a conniving little whore. (pardon my language).’; the BPD officer replied, ‘Lmao! I feel the same.’”
Additionally, the DOJ found evidence that the BPD “targeted members of a vulnerable population—people involved in the sex trade—to coerce sexual favors from them in exchange for avoiding arrest, or for cash or narcotics. This conduct is not only criminal, it is an abuse of power” (Page 149).
Even though black men were often the targets of the BPD, the department proved that age and gender offered little protection from police abuse. From the report:
The City paid $95,000 in 2012 to settle a lawsuit brought by an 87-year-old African-American grandmother who alleged that she was shoved against a wall after she refused to allow an officer to enter her basement to conduct a warrantless search. After shoving the woman to the floor, the officer allegedly stood over her and said, “Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”
6. BPD officers use the n-word (multiple times) and then hide the fact that they use the n-word—multiple times (pages 62, 66-70).
Throughout its investigation, the DOJ found multiple examples of officers using racial slurs or racially biased statements toward African Americans. When the DOJ looked at six years of complaint data that it received from the BPD, they found one—one—complaint that the BPD classified as a racial slur. The DOJ called bulls—t, stating it “implausible” that there was only one complaint in six years. When the feds manually reviewed BPD’s complaint data, they found 60 more complaints for just the use of the n-word, but the complaints were misclassified as a lesser offense.
Black Baltimore residents were seemingly stopped by police simply for leaving their homes. According to the DOJ, “BPD disproportionately stops African Americans standing, walking, or driving on Baltimore streets.” And multiple stops were par for the course: “African Americans accounted for 95 percent of the 410 individuals stopped at least 10 times by BPD officers from 2010-2015. During this period, BPD stopped 34 African Americans at least 20 times and seven other African Americans at least 30 times.”
One black man in his mid-50s was stopped 30 times in less than four years. Reasons given for the stop: loitering, trespassing and a police investigation. None of the stops led to a citation or criminal charges.