The Baltimore Police Department continues to make most of its car stops in the city’s poor, Black neighborhoods. 

Battleground Baltimore previously reported that the majority Black and heavily-divested Ninth District in West Baltimore endured the most traffic stops during June 2021 (516 stops) and July 2021 (557 stops). 

That pattern persists. In August, there were 477 stops in Ninth District; in September, 356 stops, and in October, 386 stops. 

The next highest number of stops for August was in the Seventh District (330). For September, it was in the Twelfth District (341), and in October, again, it was in the Twelfth District (301). The Seventh and Twelfth Districts also contain some of the city’s most heavily divested Black neighborhoods. 

These numbers were all made available thanks to Third District Councilperson Ryan Dorsey, who began requesting the car stop data over the summer and has continued sharing that data with Battleground Baltimore.

For Dorsey, the fact that the past five months of data show the highest number of stops in majority-Black parts of the city like the Ninth District make the “implicit bias” of BPD pretty, well, explicit.

“Based on the way that police and council district boundaries overlap, and where the racial makeup of communities lie within those areas of overlap, it’s clear that BPD is policing in an implicitly biased fashion, aggressively targeting Black communities,” Dorsey told Battleground Baltimore.

As Battleground Baltimore noted when we first called attention to traffic stop numbers:

“[T]he Ninth District contains some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, which are often less walkable and bike-able than other whiter parts of the city and are beholden to the city’s poor transit infrastructure—which puts more people into cars in areas where police are more apt to make traffic stops.” 

The Ninth District also includes the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where, in 2015, Freddie Gray was stopped on the street, arrested, transported, and killed in Baltimore Police custody.

Dorsey stressed that there isn’t any clear justification for these disproportionate numbers: “Given that there’s no data to show that the targeted communities have a higher prevalence of traffic violations than anywhere else in the City, it’s also clear that this is not being done for purposes of traffic safety,” he said.  

Dorsey began requesting the car stop data over the summer because constituents in his district complained to him that it seemed as though there was a lack of traffic enforcement in their communities. In August, there were 99 car stops in the Third District; in September, 92 stops; and in October, 90. 

Some of the city’s most egregious moving violators, meanwhile, are not being dealt with at all.

“I have in fact never seen BPD even hint that they had an interest in or pride in stopping menacing drivers, like the hundreds that have accumulated 50 or more unpaid speeding and red light violations,” Dorsey said. “That this traffic stop data correlates to no demonstrable reduction in any crime or increased quality of life gives good cause to reallocate those resources elsewhere.”

At the top of a list of the 20 worst red light camera offenders is an Acura with Maryland tags and 283 unpaid tickets. Number 20 on that list is a Volkswagen with Maryland tags and 95 unpaid tickets. While the city regularly tows those who have unpaid parking tickets, it does not and cannot tow for unpaid red light camera tickets. 

In September, Baltimore City’s Board of Estimates voted to use $6.5 million in speed camera revenue for the Baltimore Police Department. Public transportation advocate Jed Weeks of Bikemore stressed that the money was intended to be used to fund safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike.

​​“Revenues generated by speeding red light cameras under state law are to be used for public safety improvements, including pedestrian safety programs,” Weeks said. “We can’t accept the continued theft of desperately needed transportation dollars by the Baltimore City Police Department.” 

Traffic stops also frequently lead to police violence. The recent New York Times story “Why Many Police Stops Turn Deadly” noted that “over the past five years … police officers have killed more than 400 drivers or passengers who were not wielding a gun or a knife, or under pursuit for a violent crime—a rate of more than one a week.”

Traffic stops were also a focus of the 2016 Department of Justice report on the Baltimore Police Department. The report, which highlighted BPD’s routine civil rights violations and racist policing, noted that the police in Baltimore disproportionately stop Black drivers.

“From 2010–2015, African Americans made up 82 percent of people stopped by BPD officers for traffic violations, compared to only 60 percent of the City’s driving age population. As with pedestrian stops, BPD stopped a higher rate of African American drivers in each of the City’s districts, despite large differences in those districts’ demographic profiles and traffic patterns,” the DOJ report explained. “For example, African Americans accounted for 80 percent of vehicle stops in the Northern District despite making up only 41 percent of the district’s population, and made up 56 percent of stops in the Southeast District compared to only 23 percent of the population living there.” 

The car stop data is also broken down by police districts (there are nine police districts and 14 council districts). Battleground Baltimore reached out to the Baltimore Police Department hoping to obtain an estimate on the number of residents in each police district to get a scope of the number of car stops. The police, however, explained that they do not know how many residents they police in each district.

“We do not track the number of people who reside in each of our nine districts,” Det. Donny Moses of BPD told Battleground Baltimore.

The police district with the highest number of car stops in August, September, and October is the Western District—which encompasses many parts of the Ninth District.

At a recent hearing about the federal consent decree imposed on the city following the DOJ’s 2016 investigation, Judge James K. Bredar made numerous claims about the technological and financial needs of the police and the purported dangers of their job. 

Bredar has not, Dorsey stressed, commented on the ongoing disproportionate number of stops in majority-Black parts of Baltimore, even though it was a significant part of the 2016 DOJ report—which is why the city is under a consent decree in the first place.

“There is no discernible benefit to what is being done, and yet it is happening in flagrant disregard for the consent decree that resulted from doing exactly this: intentionally targeting Black communities with disproportionately aggressive policing efforts,” Dorsey said. “The greatest mystery is why it seems to be of no concern to Judge Bredar or anybody else involved in monitoring implementation and compliance with the consent decree.”

Baltimore Police Department District August September October
Total Car Stops226624552519
Number of car stops by Baltimore Police Department district between August 1, 2021 and October 31, 2021
Council District August September October
Bad Address*454260
Total Car Stops246624552519
Number of car stops by Baltimore City Council district between August 1, 2021 and October 31, 2021

*Address did not correspond to a Council District, likely due to a bad address or format.

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Brandon Soderberg is a Baltimore-based writer reporting on guns, drugs, and police corruption. He is the coauthor of I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad. Formerly, he was the editor-in-chief of the Baltimore City Paper. His work has appeared in The Intercept, VICE, The Appeal, and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @notrivia.