By Ian Simpson
Baltimore will implement reforms to its police department recommended by the US Justice Department as quickly as possible, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said on Wednesday.
The Justice Department on Tuesday released a scathing report on the 2,600-officer department, triggered by the April 2015 death of a black man named Freddie Gray in police custody. The report stated that the department engaged in a pattern of conduct that violated the US Constitution and federal law.
“Over the next few months, we will put in place a concrete plan for change and a new culture – for the good of the city, the Police Department and the people it protects,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.
The federal report said that the department had already begun to lay the groundwork for reform through changes in policies, training, data management and accountability systems.
The report was issued 16 months after police arrested Gray, 25, for fleeing unprovoked in a high-crime area. He suffered a neck injury in a police vehicle while shackled and handcuffed, and died a week later.
His death sparked protests and rioting in the majority-black city, and helped fuelled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Six officers were charged in Gray’s death, but four trials ended without a conviction. Prosecutors dropped the remaining charges last month.
The Justice Department’s investigation after Gray’s death found that the Baltimore Police Department had routinely made unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests.
“BPD’s targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighbourhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African-American residents,” the report added.
The investigation found African-American pedestrians were stopped three times as often as white residents after controlling for the population of the area in which the stops occurred, the report said.
Police have also engaged in a pattern of using excessive force when dealing with individuals with mental health disabilities, juveniles and subjects who do not immediately respond to verbal commands, the investigation found.
The department “uses overly aggressive tactics that unnecessarily escalate encounters, increase tensions, and lead to unnecessary force, and fails to de-escalate encounters when it would be reasonable to do so,” the report said.
Police in Baltimore also have frequently violated the First Amendment of the US Constitution by detaining and arresting individuals who engaged in protected speech, the report said.