Even Under Federal Monitoring, American Police Ignore the Law

A scathing report from the monitors tasked with reporting on the Baltimore Police Department’s compliance with a federal consent decree found the dysfunctional agency violated the law after the shooting of homicide detective Sean Suiter

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Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham, reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.

There was hope that with federal oversight the Baltimore City Police Department could be reformed, but a new report raises doubts.

SPEAKER: When this was locked down they should, this board should have went to the media and said, you’re in violation.

TAYA GRAHAM: It was a scene of tension and anger with Baltimore police.

SPEAKER: Everything in the city is related to race. In the disparities that exist, not just with the police department.

TAYA GRAHAM: Residents of the West Baltimore community Harlem Park, voicing their outrage last year about an extended lockdown of their neighborhood.

SPEAKER: The police cannot police the police. What we are dealing with in Baltimore City is a criminal organization.

TAYA GRAHAM: For roughly a week after Detective Sean Suiter was found shot in a nearby alley, police cordoned off six blocks, forcing residents to carry papers; subjecting them to patdowns and searches. And now a report from the federal monitor tasked with overseeing the consent decree between the Justice Department and Baltimore City has determined that these tactics were illegal.

SPEAKER: The perimeter was held for an extra three days. And during those three days, people’s freedom to travel was restricted.

TAYA GRAHAM: A profound finding for a department that was already under the decree at the time of their lockdown, and a revelation that did not surprise State Senator Jill Carter, who called the Harlem Park meeting.

STEPHEN JANIS: The report said that the police implemented unconstitutional practices in Harlem Park. Does that surprise you?

JILL CARTER: Of course not. It was a no-brainer that cordoning off that community, especially when we are already under a consent decree, was, really it was astounding that they even did it. But I think that what is a little troubling, more than a little troubling, is the focus seems to be on the length of time of detentions, as opposed to the idea that the entire community should not have been in lockdown. And especially in a city where we have about, I believe the number is around 170 homicides this year alone, and those extraordinary measures are never used for the non-officer, the non-law enforcement officer. And so you’re sending a strong message to the community that officers’ lives are far more valuable than the average citizen.

TAYA GRAHAM: The report says police searched residents without probable cause, ran warrant checks without reasonable suspicion, and even turned off body-worn cameras during the lockdown. But this was not all the report revealed, because buried in the details of the document were stunning revelations about the state of the police department and the limits of the monitor to hold it accountable.

Among those revelations this is a standout: the monitor stating that they could not assess stops, searches, and arrests. But why? According to the report, thousands and thousands of poorly-organized paper records which would be impractical to assess. The bottom line: The primary area where the Justice Department found the Baltimore City police engaged in racial and unconstitutional tactics is beyond the purview of the monitor tasked with fixing it. It’s another aspect of policing that David Rocha of the ACLU says raises more questions than answers.

DAVID ROCHA: Look, a murder, any murder, is an extraordinary event. But the Constitution doesn’t evaporate when police are investigating a murder, and when they’re investigating the murder of a police officer, perhaps that’s the most important time when the Constitutional limits ought to be adhered to because that’s when there is likely the greatest incentive on the part of the police to violate them.

TAYA GRAHAM: And it is troubling for a department that for now remains seemingly inscrutable.

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.