New Attorney General Loretta Lynch today announced a civil rights investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, stressing that “if unconstitutional policies or practices are found, we will seek a court-enforceable agreement to address those issues.”
Lynch said the Justice Department probe will focus on “allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers use excessive force, including deadly force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing.”
“Now, some may ask how this differs from our current work with Baltimore Police Department. And the answer is rather than examining whether the police department violated good policies, we will now examine whether they violated the Constitution and the community’s civil rights,” she said.
She also encouraged other cities “to study our past recommendations and see whether they can be applied in their own communities.”
“Ultimately, this process is meant to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools that they need, including training, policy guidance and equipment to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety.”
The Justice Department came down hard on the Ferguson Police Department after finding that Officer Darren Wilson did not break federal law in the Missouri city shooting of Michael Brown. “Some community perception may not have been accurate” on the Brown case, then-Attorney General Eric Holder said March 4, but on the broader concerns of racism in the police ranks “some of those protesters were right.”
Acknowledging the high percentage of minorities in the Baltimore police ranks — a different situation than Ferguson — Lynch, who visited Baltimore this week to talk with city officials and community leaders, said today that “regardless of the racial or ethnic makeup of any city, every city is different.”
“I think policing is an extremely challenging profession at this time, no matter where you are. And I think that the issues facing Baltimore certainly do — some people express them in racial tones, but people, to me, were expressing them more in tones — in tones of community leaders feeling frustrated, feeling pain; police department leaders feeling — feeling also frustrated at not being able to protect their city,” she said.
“So there really was a very strong commonality in what I heard in Baltimore that crossed races, that crossed professionals, that crossed groups. So I think every city’s different, and I — and I don’t want to prejudge or put that particular prism on Baltimore or any other city.”
Lynch noted that it’s “premature” to accept the city of Baltimore’s claim that complaints against the police are down as data that could influence the DOJ investigation.
“We’ll be looking at all of those issues and incidents, but we’ll be looking at the larger issues of whether or not the police as they work to stop, arrest and detain people, how they are in fact implementing their policies,” she said. “We’ll look at excessive force, the use and the guidance that they have and the training that they have already.”