Following the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody last year, the City asked the Department of Justice to investigate police practices on a systemic level. More than a year later, the report was issued today and the results are as depressing as they are predictable. The report’s executive summary begins:
Today, we announce the outcome of the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD). After engaging in a thorough investigation, initiated at the request of the City of Baltimore and BPD, the Department of Justice concludes that there is reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law. BPD engages in a pattern or practice of:
(1) making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests;
(2) using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans;
(3) using excessive force; and
(4) retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression.
This pattern or practice is driven by 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.
161 further pages of analysis follow this brutal opening salvo. I’ll be reading through the report and highlighting particular areas for further emphasis in the coming days.
This kind of policing cannot be allowed to continue. Serious and systemic form must take place immediately, the effort must be sustained for an extended period of time, and it must be led by people who understand the criminal justice system from top to bottom. We are long past the point where symbolic gestures and stand alone, one off “reform” measures are of any use whatsoever. If this report doesn’t spur real and systemic change, I’m not sure what will.