- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Baltimore Police officers unconstitutionally stopped and searched residents, disproportionately targeted black residents and frequently resorted to physical force during interactions that didn’t warrant it — actions that undermined trust between the department and the community, according to a scathing Justice Department report released Wednesday.

The Justice Department review, undertaken after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, found the Baltimore Police Department engaged in a pattern of conduct that violated city residents’ constitutional and federal rights.

“These violations have deeply eroded the mutual trust between BPD and the community it serves, trust that is essential to effective policing, as well as officer and public safety,” said Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who heads the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

City leaders on Wednesday said they will work with the Justice Department and commit the funding necessary to reform the police department and repair its relationship with the community.

“Change is painful, growth is painful, but nothing is as painful as being stuck in a place that we do not belong,” said Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, noting that the department already has started to address several issues highlighted in the critical report.

Commissioner Davis said six of the officers involved in some of the “more egregious” actions highlighted in the 164-page report already have been fired.

SEE ALSO: Marilyn Mosby never should have charged officers in Freddie Gray death, lawyers say

Among the report’s findings:

⦁ Police officers often lacked reasonable suspicion to stop community members, with less than 4 percent of pedestrian stops resulting in an arrest or issuance of a citation.

⦁ Black residents were disproportionately targeted for stops, accounting for 84 percent of stops while they represent 63 percent of the city’s population, and accounting for 95 percent of the 410 people stopped at least 10 times by police.

⦁ One black resident in his mid-50s was stopped 30 times by police over the course of four years without ever being arrested or receiving a citation.

⦁ During a Justice Department ride-along with officers, a sergeant instructed a patrol officer to stop and question a group of black men on a street corner and order them to disperse. After the patrol officer protested that he had no valid reason to stop the group, the sergeant responded, “Then make something up.”

⦁ Officers used overly aggressive tactics with residents that unnecessarily escalated encounters, often ending up in unwarranted and violent confrontations with people with mental health issues.

⦁ The department failed to adequately support its officers with staffing and resources.

The report is the result of a 15-month investigation that included hundreds of interviews with residents, officers, attorneys and elected officials, as well as ride-alongs with on-duty police officers, and a review of thousands of documents including police reports, complaints, and internal policy and training manuals.

The Justice Department opened the review last year after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered mortal injuries while being transported in the back of a police van. He was handcuffed but left unrestrained, and his neck was broken during the ride. His death set off waves of violent protests in the city as residents decried unfair treatment by police.

Six officers faced criminal charges in connection with Gray’s death. But after three officers were acquitted of all charges, prosecutors last month dropped all charges against the remaining three officers.

The Justice Department recently has undertaken similar probes of police departments in Chicago, Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri.

The resulting report will serve as a road map for reforming the police department as Justice works with the city to negotiate a court-enforceable consent decree.

That work is expected to take place over the next several months, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake said she has made a commitment to the Justice Department that she will ensure the city is “in the position” to be able to pay for the anticipated cost of the reform efforts — which has ranged between $5 million and $10 million annually in other cities.

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