According to news reports, since 2011 approximately 100 Baltimoreans, primarily African Americans, ages 15 to 85, have suffered serious injuries or death at the hands of police, costing the city $5.7 million in settlements and court judgments1 and the African American community an unquantifiable toll. Consequently, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts asked the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (“COPS”) to conduct a collaborative review of the police department’s use of force practices. Even as the COPS Office launched its review in January 2015, two Black males have died after being in police custody – 30-year old Trayvon Scott in February 2015, and most recently 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
Last week, Baltimore’s State’s Attorney filed charges against the six police officers connected to Mr. Gray’s death. The Department of Justice has announced it will initiate its own criminal civil rights investigation, and we hope that these investigations will lead to a just outcome. But, we remain concerned that the COPS Office’s collaborative review, which would be subject only to voluntary compliance by the police department, will not go far enough. Any recommendations for change would be limited to use of force practices, and there is no guarantee that any proposed changes will be implemented in the future under new city leadership. We believe that the pervasive and persistent police abuse against African Americans in Baltimore warrants an investigation by the Department of Justice of the most serious form. A pattern and practice investigation would ensure that other policing practices, such as pedestrian and traffic stops and “rough riding,” allowing handcuffed persons to ride in police vans without seat belts, would be reviewed. Additionally, the recommendations would enjoy the force of law and would apply to subsequent local administrations.
Read the full letter here.