MAP: How the Feds Are Policing the Police in Baltimore and Other Cities Across the Country

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The Baltimore Police Department has a long track record of racial discrimination, frequently violating the rights of the city's black residents, according to a scathing report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The investigation was commissioned in May 2015, following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was severely injured during a rough ride in the back of a police van. The incident sparked days of protests and rioting in Baltimore, and led to criminal charges against six officers - three of whom have already been acquitted.

In examining the BPD's policing practices from 2010 to 2015, the DOJ found "large racial disparities." African-Americans make up 63 percent of Baltimore's population,  but were charged with 91 percent of all "discretionary offenses" (very minor, non-violent infractions) and 82 percent of all traffic stops, according to the report. Nearly half of all pedestrian stops occurred in just two primarily black districts. The report also found that police frequently used excessive force during these stops and unnecessarily escalated encounters.

"BPD’s targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighborhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African-American residents," reads the DOJ's report. "Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD’s enforcement actions, from the initial decision to stop individuals on Baltimore streets to searches, arrests, and uses of force."

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City officials must now implement a series of legally mandated reforms outlined in what's known as a "consent decree."

The BPD is among the nearly 70 local  police departments nationwide that have been investigated by the DOJ for allegations of brutality, racial bias and other civil rights violations.

Click points on the map below for specific DOJ 14141 investigations of police departments around the country (with data compiled by the Marshall Project.) The map details on-going cases and negotiated settlements (not all 67 cases). Map design by Charu Kukreja and Roland Hansson.

[If the map doesn't appear in your browser, view it here in fullscreen mode.]


 

Although they make up only a tiny percentage of the the roughly 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies around the country, some of the departments investigated are among the nation's largest, serving nearly one in five Americans, according to one analysis.

14141-graphic_full_updated2-1DOJ investigations of police forces, from Detroit to the U.S. Virgin Islands, are the outcome of a federal law prompted by a 1991 incident involving Rodney King, an unarmed black man savagely beaten by Los Angeles police officers during a traffic stop.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, enacted three years later, includes a provision -- Section 14141 -- that gives the DOJ authority to investigate systemic civil rights abuses. It's one of the few federal tools that can compel widespread change in local law enforcement agencies, empowering the DOJ to take legal action against a police department unless it enters into a negotiated settlement -- such as a consent decree or memorandum of agreement -- and makes proposed reforms under a specified timeline.

There have been 67 formal investigations opened under Section 14141 to date. Of those, 22 cases have been closed without an agreement, 33 cases resulted in a negotiated settlement, and 12 cases are ongoing, including four currently in litigation.

The tactic has its naysayers: some critics call it a blatant form of government overreach that places unrealistic expectations and financial burdens on already cash-strapped local police departments. Some also question its effectiveness, pointing to instances where the DOJ's mandates were ignored or where reform efforts  stalled after federal oversight ended, as in the case of Cleveland's department, which has undergone two DOJ investigations.

Supporters of the DOJ probes, though, point to the numerous examples of success that have led to sustained reforms and significantly improved police-community relations.

“it’s really hard to judge how effective the monitors are in bringing about reforms," notes Stephen Rushin, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. "There's no single police misconduct measure. But it really looks like [there's been] significant progress in cities that have these monitors.”

For more, see PBS Frontline's recent investigation, Policing the Police.