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Justice Department to Halt Police Reform Featured

A young boy greets police officers in riot gear during a march in Baltimore. A young boy greets police officers in riot gear during a march in Baltimore. REUTERS

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review of previous police reform agreements to ensure they align with the new administration’s principles, according to a memo published Monday.

“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions wrote. “The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe.”

Reform agreements had been reached during the Obama administration with cities including Baltimore and Chicago. Investigations into these cities found practices of systemic racism that were not limited to “individual bad actors.”

A Justice Department report released last summer found that Blacks in Baltimore were subjected to traffic stops, arrests and excessive force more frequently than their white counterparts.

“This pattern or practice is driven by systemic deficiencies in BPD’s policies, training, supervision and accountability structures that fail to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively and within the bounds of the federal law,” the report stated.

Further, 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.”

“BPD’s targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighborhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African-American residents,” the report added.

But also on Monday, Justice Department officials asked a Maryland judge to delay for 90 days a hearing regarding the consent decree that is scheduled for Thursday.

“The Department must ensure that such contemplated consent decrees advance the safety and protection of the public, promote officer safety and morale, protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public, respect local control of law enforcement, are rooted in timely and reliable statistics on crime and criminals, and do not impede recruitment and training of officers,” officials said in their filing.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh released a statement against Sessions’ memo on Monday.

“We strongly oppose any delay in moving forward,” Pugh said, adding “Any interruption in moving forward may have the effect of eroding the trust that we are working hard to establish.”

The Baltimore report found that the department “fails to provide officers with sufficient policy guidance and training.” And while the report does include and cite a significant amount of data, the Justice Department believes that the reality may even be worse than the report suggests because the BPD also “fails to collect and analyze data regarding officers’ activities.”

For instance, according to the report, an analysis of 300,000 pedestrian stops (the number is probably even greater, the report notes, due to underreporting) over a five-year period found an embedded practice of racism.

“BPD made roughly 44 percent of its stops in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain only 11 percent of the City’s population,” the report states.

And Black residents were more likely to be searched during pedestrian and traffic stops (they were also more likely to be stopped in the first place) — yet they were less likely to have contraband: “BPD officers found contraband twice as often when searching white individuals compared to African Americans during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops.”

In a statement the NAACP Legal Defense Fund criticized the Department’s request to delay action in Baltimore, calling the legal filing “a blatant attempt” for the DOJ “to abandon its obligations” of fair, “nondiscriminatory and constitutional” policing.

“Long-serving DOJ attorneys, including some who have served under multiple administrations, conducted a fair and thorough investigation and found countless civil rights violations in Baltimore,” said President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill.

In a joint statement on Monday Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson reiterated their own city’s commitment to its police reforms, which “are built on the principles of partnership and trust between our residents and our officers.”

“Through these ongoing reforms we will ensure our officers have the training and support they need to do a tough job well, we will strengthen the relationship with our residents, and we will make our city a stronger, safer place,” the men said.

Like Baltimore, in Chicago the Justice Department found “a pattern or practice of unreasonable force” as a result of “deficiencies in CPD’s training, supervision, accountability, and other systems.” The investigation raised “serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers and the degree to which that conduct is tolerated and in some respects caused by deficiencies in CPD’s systems of training, supervision and accountability.”

The investigation also found problems with Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the board that investigates officer misconduct, including police shootings. The IPRA was heavily criticized because it was primarily made up of former law enforcement agents.

According to the Justice Department report, Chicago police used force against Blacks ten times more often than against whites. Despite Blacks, whites and Latinos all making up roughly one-third of the city’s population (Blacks, 32.9 percent; whites, 31.7 percent; and Latinos, 28.9 percent), “between January 2011 and April 18, 2016, black individuals were subject to approximately 76% (19,374) of the uses of force, as compared to whites, who represented only 8% (2,007) of the force incidents.” Further, “black individuals were the subject of 80% of all CPD firearm uses and 81% of all Taser contact-stun uses during that time period. CPD’s data on force incidents involving youth also showed stark disparities: 83% (3,335) of the incidents involved black children and 14% (552) involved Latino children.”

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