Expert: DOJ’s Baltimore PD smackdown will lead to more violent crime

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BALTIMORE — The U.S. Department of Justice’s scathing condemnation of the Baltimore Police Department is likely to lead to more violent crime in the Maryland city, according to one expert on criminal law.

On Wednesday, the DOJ released a report accusing the city’s law enforcement officers of disproportionately stopping, searching and arresting African-Americans.   The report comes 15-months after the federal government launched an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department following the 2015 death of 25-year old Freddie Gray, who died in police custody. Six police officers were either acquitted or had criminal charges against them dropped in the case of Gray’s death.

But Heather Mac Donald, author of The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe, told the NewBostonPost that the DOJ’s report sends a message to cops that they are better off doing nothing than trying to stop crime before it happens by questioning youth hanging out on the corner.

Mac Donald said she’s seen this pattern before:  police officers charged in cases involving lethal use of force are later cleared, only to return to a police department subject to an intense federal investigation.

“We saw it in Ferguson already,” she said, referring to the exoneration in Missouri of Police Officer Darren Wilson and the subsequent DOJ investigation into his department in which federal officials concluded that similar discrimination was in play.

“They’ve reached this finding for every department. There’s not a single department they’re not going to find guilty of discriminatory policing.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told reporters at Wednesday’s press conference that while the DOJ’s findings “are challenging to hear, the transparency of the report offers a crucial foundation if we are going to move forward.”

Vanita Gupta, who heads the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said the 15-month federal investigation has led officials to “conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution and federal anti-discrimination law.”

At the heart of the DOJ report are raw statistics that show that between January 2010 and May 2015 police stopped at least 300,000 pedestrians, with “roughly 44 percent of its stops in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain only 11 percent of the city’s population.”  During the same time period, the report noted that “supervisors at Baltimore’s central booking and local prosecutors rejected over 11,000 charges made by BPD officers because they lacked probable cause or otherwise did not merit prosecution.”

But Mac Donald, who serves as a research fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank that focuses in part on urban affairs, countered that the report is “flawed” because it does not consider the crime rate in those neighborhoods.

“They use no criminal benchmarks in evaluating policing,” Mac Donald said. “They say that the stops of black people are disproportionate based on population numbers but that’s irrelevant; you have to know where the crime is going on. I doubt there is any representation of whites committing drive-by shootings in Baltimore.”

In 2015 — the same year the DOJ launched its investigation into the practices employed by the Baltimore Police Department — that the homicide rate in the city hit 344 , an all-time high and second only to 1993, when rate was 353 and the city was home to more than 100,000 additional residents.

“It had it’s highest per cap homicide rate in history last year because the city began backing-off on policing,” Mac Donald said. “And they continue to do so.”

Through the first seven months of 2016, Baltimore has experienced 180 homicides. During the last 30 days alone, the city has witnessed 31 homicides. Mac Donald said she believes the numbers will only further deteriorate as the city continues to abandon its zero-tolerance approach.

Charges of loitering, frequently referenced in the DOJ report, largely result from police being aware of where trouble is likely to happen, MacDonald noted.

“They’re going to where the complaints are coming from,” Mac Donald said. “The open-air drug markets on the street corners.”

American Civil Liberties of Maryland, however, issued a brief statement agreeing with the DOJ’s findings:

As part of the consent decree established between the department and the DOJ, a series of mandated police reforms and overhauls must be adopted.

“What DOJ investigations like these actually do is put more police department chiefs on notice that more proactive policing will get them accused of racial bias,” Mac Donald said.