Racial bias found in 'every stage' of Baltimore policing

The Department of Justice spent one year investigating the BPD, and here are some of the most shocking statistics it published.
August 10, 2016, 2:00pm
Un homme passe devant une zone de crime à Baltimore, le 25 juillet 2015. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The Baltimore Police Department has been under the spotlight since the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man who died in April 2015 from spinal injuries while in police custody. Now there's a way to gauge just how big of a problem system-wide racism is in the Baltimore Police Department: The US Department of Justice has issued a damning report after a year-long investigation.

The federal government investigated the Baltimore police's activities between January 2010 and June 2015, and concluded that officers routinely violated black people's rights, intruded upon their lives, and racial bias pervaded "every stage" of BPD's enforcement activities.

Here are some of the most troubling statistics:

  • Black people make up 63 percent of the population, but 84 percent of people stopped on the street by Baltimore police in those five and a half years were black.
  • Officers made 520 stops for every 1,000 black residents in Baltimore, but only 180 stops for every 1,000 white residents.
  • Black residents were more likely to be stopped multiple times. Blacks accounted for 95 percent of those who were stopped more than 10 times.
  • Despite the higher rate of stops, officers were less likely to find contraband during searches of blacks than others. For example, during traffic stops and searches, police found contraband in 3.9 percent of blacks' vehicles, compared to 8.5 percent of others. The report says that this difference suggests that Baltimore Police are more suspicious, and without justification, of blacks than of people of other races.
  • Baltimore police arrested blacks for misdemeanor offenses at a disproportionate rate. For example, blacks accounted for 83 percent of 6,500 arrests for disorderly conduct.
  • The rates at which charges for such offenses were dropped suggest that police were arresting blacks on insufficient evidence. Blacks accounted for 89 percent of the 1,350 charges for making a false statement. But booking centers and prosecutors dismissed those charges against black people at a 231 percent higher rate compared to other races. Blacks also made up 84 percent of the 4,000 charges for failing to obey an officer's order, but those charges were 33 percent more likely to be dropped than those of other races.
  • Baltimore police charged 657 people with "gaming" or playing "cards or dice." Essentially everybody charged with that, 99 percent, was black. But the Department of Justice said that while it was unable to find specific data showing the demographics of people playing cards or dice, it is "extremely unlikely that African Americans comprise 99 percent of those doing so."
  • The BPD used extreme tactics to police misdemeanors in black communities. The department has a helicopter unit, called "Foxtrot", which is normally used to coordinate officers' responses to shootings and other serious crimes. But the police used Foxtrot to patrol "gambling" activities like playing dice, according to the report.
  • Drug usage data from to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that only one percentage point more blacks over the age of 12 used drugs than whites. But the rates at which blacks were arrested for drug possession far exceeded those statistics. BPD made 254 drug arrests for every 1,000 black Baltimore residents, but only 52 drug arrests per 1,000 residents of other races. In other words, blacks are five times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses.
  • Black people were subjected to excessive force in 90 percent of instances of arrest.
  • "Zero tolerance" policing was exercised in mostly black neighborhoods. 97 of the population in the Western District, where Freddie Gray was detained, are black. There, BPD made 147 stops for every 100 residents, compared to 22.5 stops per 100 residents in the mostly white Northern district.
  • Accusations of racial bias were routinely covered up. DOJ investigators found 60 separate allegations between 2010-2016 where an officer used the word "nigger" when referring to a black individual. But those complaints were not filed under "racial slur" or "racial bias". Instead they were filed as "discourtesy" or "inappropriate language." The DOJ found that racial slurs were misclassified 98 percent of the time.
  • Lack of oversight led to a routine failure to investigate complaints filed against officers. The DOJ refers to one incident from 2010, when a black man filed a report against officers who allegedly used excessive force during an arrest and tried to punch a 14-year-old boy, who was trying to record the arrest on his cellphone. The complainant said the officers used the word "nigger" frequently and asked him if he "takes it up the ass by Allah." When he tried to report the misconduct in person at the police district headquarters, he encountered the same officers who were involved in the initial incident.