Baltimore: Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department. DOJ Civil Rights Division, 2016



Today, we announce the outcome of the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD). 1 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.

We recognize the challenges faced by police officers in Baltimore and other communities around the country. Every day, police officers risk their lives to uphold the law and keep our communities safe. Investigatory stops, arrests, and force—including, at times, deadly force—are all necessary tools used by BPD officers to do their jobs and protect the safety of themselves and others. Providing policing services in many parts of Baltimore is particularly challenging, where officers regularly confront complex social problems rooted in poverty, racial segregation and deficient educational, employment and housing opportunities. Still, most BPD officers work hard to provide vital services to the community.

The Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division conducted the investigation pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141 (“Section 14141”), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3789d (“Safe Streets Act”); and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131–12134. The investigation did not examine the actions of officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest on April 12, 2015, or the merits of any criminal or civil proceedings connected to that incident.

The pattern or practice occurs as a result of systemic deficiencies at BPD. The agency fails to provide officers with sufficient policy guidance and training; fails to collect and analyze data regarding officers’ activities; and fails to hold officers accountable for misconduct. BPD also fails to equip officers with the necessary equipment and resources they need to police safely, constitutionally, and effectively. Each of these systemic deficiencies contributes to the constitutional and statutory violations we observed.

Throughout our investigation, we received the full cooperation and assistance of BPD and the City of Baltimore. We interviewed current and former City leaders, including current BPD Commissioner Kevin Davis and former commissioners. We also interviewed current and former officers throughout the BPD command structure. We participated in ride-alongs in each district, interviewed numerous current and former officers individually, and met with the leadership of the Baltimore City Lodge No. 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents all sworn BPD officers. We are also heard from hundreds of people in the broader Baltimore community who shared information with our investigation. We met with religious organizations, advocacy groups, community support organizations, neighborhood associations, and countless individuals who provided valuable information about their experiences with BPD. We thank everyone for sharing their experiences and insights with us.

In addition to these interviews, we reviewed hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, including all relevant policies and training materials used by the Department since 2010; BPD’s database of internal affairs files from January 2010 through March 2016; BPD’s data on pedestrian stops, vehicle stops, and arrests from January 2010 to May 2015; incident reports describing stops, searches, arrests, and officers’ use of non-deadly force from 2010 to 2015; all files on deadly force incidents since 2010 that BPD was able to produce to us through May 1, 2016; and investigative files on sexual assault cases from 2013 to 2015. We were assisted by a dozen current and former law enforcement leaders and experts with experience on the issues we investigated, and we retained statistical experts to analyze BPD’s data on its enforcement activities. 2

In the course of our investigation, we learned there is widespread agreement that BPD needs reform. Almost everyone who spoke to us—from current and former City leaders, BPD officers and command staff during ride-alongs and interviews, community members throughout the many neighborhoods of Baltimore, union representatives of all levels of officers in BPD, advocacy groups, and civic and religious leaders—agrees that BPD has significant problems that have undermined its efforts to police constitutionally and effectively. As we note in this report, many of these people and groups have documented those problems in the past, and although they may disagree about the nature, scope, and solutions to the challenges, many have also made efforts to address them.

Nevertheless, work remains, in part because of the profound lack of trust among these groups, and in particular, between BPD and certain communities in Baltimore. The road to meaningful and lasting reform is a long one, but it can be taken. This investigation is intended to help Baltimore take a large step down this path.

Recent events highlight the critical importance of mutual trust and cooperation between law enforcement officers and the people they serve. A commitment to constitutional policing builds trust that enhances crime fighting efforts and officer safety. Conversely, frayed community relationships inhibit effective policing by denying officers important sources of information and placing them more frequently in dangerous, adversarial encounters. We found these principles in stark relief in Baltimore, where law enforcement officers confront a long history of social and economic challenges that impact much of the City, including the perception that there are “two Baltimores:” one wealthy and largely white, the second impoverished and predominantly black.

Community members living in the City’s wealthier and largely white neighborhoods told us that officers tend to be respectful and responsive to their needs, while many individuals living in the City’s largely African-American communities informed us that officers tend to be disrespectful and do not respond promptly to their calls for service. Members of these largely African-American communities often felt they were subjected to unjustified stops, searches, and arrests, as well as excessive force. These challenges amplify the importance of using policing methods that build community partnerships and ensure fair and effective enforcement without regard for affluence or race through robust training, close supervision, data collection and analysis, and accountability for misconduct.

Starting in at least the late 1990s, however, City and BPD leadership responded to the City’s challenges by encouraging “zero tolerance” street enforcement that prioritized officers making large numbers of stops, searches, and arrests—and often resorting to force—with minimal training and insufficient oversight from supervisors or through other accountability structures. These practices led to repeated violations of the constitutional and statutory rights, further eroding the community’s trust in the police.

Proactive policing does not have to lead to these consequences. On the contrary, constitutional, community-oriented policing is proactive policing, but it is fundamentally different from the tactics employed in Baltimore for many years. Community policing depends on building relationships with all of the communities that a police department serves, and then jointly solving problems to ensure public safety. We encourage BPD to be proactive, to get to know Baltimore’s communities more deeply, build trust, and reduce crime together with the communities it serves



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