A few weeks ago, the Department of Justice released findings from a “pattern and practice” review of the Baltimore Police Department. Amnesty International USA welcomed these findings as an important step towards transparency and accountability and expressed concern regarding alarming revelations about the use of deadly force by the Baltimore Police Department.
Last Friday, along with many other community organizations and human rights advocates, we submitted formal recommendations to the DOJ as it enters into a formal consent decree process with the City of Baltimore and the BPD. AIUSA pushed for legislation on the use of deadly force to be introduced in the state of Maryland – Maryland is one of nine states that has never even enacted a use of lethal force statute. As part of the Baltimore-based Campaign for Jobs, Safety and Justice, AIUSA also reiterated the coalition’s collective demands that the local community is not only able to provide input into the development of the decree but that it is represented in any monitoring process once the decree is agreed upon.
If you’re interested in learning more about AIUSA’s work on police accountability in the state of Maryland, e-mail Noor Mir at [email protected].org to get involved.
9 September 2016
Dear Vanita Gupta, Earl Saunders and Timothy Mygatt,
I am writing in regards to the recent pattern and practice report released by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division (DOJ) on the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). As the DOJ enters into a formal consent decree with the City of Baltimore and the BPD, it is imperative that the local community is not only able to provide input into the development of the decree but that it is represented in any monitoring process once the decree is agreed upon, that the local coalition’s demands (see addendum to letter) are incorporated into the decree, and that your office urge City and State officials to introduce and pass legislation on the use of deadly force in the state of Maryland.
The DOJ has recently engaged in the process of receiving input from community members and members of law enforcement through the course of community forums and meetings. As the DOJ moves forward in entering into a consent decree with the City of Baltimore regarding the BPD, it is imperative that the DOJ continues to engage community members and policing accountability coalitions during the creation of the decree and throughout the monitoring phase of the decree to ensure accountability and proper oversight. With that in mind, Amnesty International is elevating the demands of the local coalition to be considered during the development of the consent decree and the ensuing period of monitoring of the BPD by the DOJ.
Furthermore, in the pattern and practice report of the BPD that was released in August 2016, the DOJ uncovered a number of issues with regards to violations of the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution as well as federal anti- discrimination laws. The DOJ investigation also uncovered substantial issues in how BPD officers are trained, specifically in regards to the use of lethal force, as well as documentation and investigation of such incidents. While BPD’s internal documentation of use of force incidents was inconsistent and deficient in a manner which precluded the DOJ from making a determination on all incidents of use of force between January 2010 and May 2016, the incident reports and investigations that were reviewed led the DOJ to determine that a pattern or practice of excessive force exists within the BPD. For instance, the report uncovered a lack of training on de-escalation whereby officers would often escalate a situation unnecessarily, sometimes to the level of using deadly force, in incidents with members of the public, with those experiencing mental health crisis being the most prevalent. Officers were also trained to use their firearm as a method of gaining control of a scene by pointing it at a member of the public. The DOJ correctly pointed out that such uses of firearms can not only escalate situations but put both the public and the officer at increased risk. The report also uncovered instances where officers fired their weapons at individuals who were fleeing when they may not have actually threatened the officer or others with serious or deadly harm, in violation of U.S. Constitutional law on the use of lethal force. The lack of accurate record keeping in these incidents made it difficult to determine whether officers faced any immediate threat before using their firearms. There were also a number of incidents where officers fired at moving vehicles where the vehicle was moving away from and would not have presented a threat to the officer, which may have violated Constitutional limits on the use of force in such incidents. Lastly, the DOJ detailed the disjointed training and guidance on use of force and determined that there is “no cohesive, comprehensive guidance for officers that is digestible and workable” which “makes it difficult to understand and operationalize what guidance the Department does provide its officers about use of force.”
The lax guidance, training and investigation on the use of force uncovered by the DOJ investigation of the BPD is symptomatic of a much larger issue within law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Guidance on the use of lethal force must meet international standards and be enshrined in law. In 2015, Amnesty International conducted a review of each state’s use of lethal force statute and found that none met international standards which restricts its use to only those incidents where the officer or another is faced with an imminent threat of death or serious injury. Maryland is one of nine states that has never even enacted a use of lethal force statute. The lack of a statute is a violation of international law and standards in and of itself as its absence fails to provide officers with guidance on the proper limits on the use of lethal force under international law and prevents the public from obtaining accountability when those limits are transgressed. In order to meet international standards, among other requirements, all instances of where lethal force is used must be documented, investigated and, if it is determined that the officer’s actions transgressed the statutory limits of lethal force, prosecuted. This would provide a proper framework for guidance on the use of lethal force for all officers and serve to achieve real accountability.
While the BPD announced in July 2016 the implementation of an updated use of force policy in order to address some of the concerns raised by the DOJ investigation, a change in department policy does not go far enough to provide the community with proper accountability. As has been demonstrated numerous times across the country, a violation of an internal policy only leads to internal discipline, such as a loss of vacation time or, in the worst cases, termination. The officer remains able to continue working in that law enforcement agency or find a position in another agency. That does not provide appropriate accountability under international law. The only way to ensure proper accountability on the use of force, including lethal force, is to establish that guidance in a statute that meets international law and standards.
As the DOJ enters into a consent decree with the City of Baltimore regarding the BPD and moves into the long term monitoring process of adherence to the stipulations of that decree, it is important that the DOJ not only ensure community input and participation in the oversight of the BPD throughout the consent decree process, but that the DOJ take the bold step of calling on the Maryland Legislature to enact a statute that meets international law and standards on the use of lethal force. While the development, implementation and monitoring of a consent decree may help to address the myriad problems identified within the BPD by the DOJ’s report, the enactment of such a statute will serve to not only ensure accountability for some of the issues raised by the DOJ investigation into the actions of the BPD but also provide proper guidance to all law enforcement officers throughout the state and set an example for the rest of the country.
Amnesty International would also like to note the recent revelations by media outlets of the BPD’s use of aerial surveillance equipment without the public’s or local government’s knowledge. While the use of such equipment by a local law enforcement agency causes concern for the local community generally, it raises serious concerns that the BPD would implement the use of such equipment while under investigation by the DOJ. While a public review of this practice by local government officials is needed, the DOJ should consider including the use of such equipment and its impact on the local community during the course of its consent decree monitoring process with BPD.
Thank you for your time in considering this letter during the development of the consent decree with the City of Baltimore and I look forward to speaking more on this issue at your earliest convenience.
Margaret Huang Interim Executive Director Amnesty International USA
DEMANDS FROM THE CAMPAIGN FOR JUSTICE, SAFETY AND JOBS
September 9, 2016
We are members of the Campaign for Justice, Safety, and Jobs (“CJSJ”), a coalition of over 30 organizations representing local and national youth leaders, policy advocates, civil rights organizations, law enforcement, and labor unions. CJSJ formed over a year ago in the wake of the Baltimore police in-custody death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed Black man. Since then, we have created and advanced policing reforms and economic solutions to improve the quality of life of Baltimore City residents.
As community leaders, we believe that policing in Baltimore will never truly by reformed, nor police-community trust established, until the current systems of accountability allow for and encourage robust civilian participation and oversight of the Baltimore City Police Department. To that end, civilians must also play critical oversight roles in the negotiation and monitoring of any agreement between the City of Baltimore and the Department of Justice. We believe that the following provisions should be included in any consent decree or other agreement:
- 1) The consent decree must include a provision requiring that the monitoring team selected and agreed upon by the parties will be required to contract with community based groups to regularly solicit community feedback through structured interviews about police citizen contacts throughout the monitoring process. Funding for this community-based feedback contracts should be sourced with the same public funds supporting the City’s other efforts to come into compliance with the consent decree. This will be critical to rebuilding community trust and ensuring that reforms or systems changes implemented at the department level are not considered adequate until their impact is felt at the community level.
- 2) The consent decree must include a transparent monitor selection process including an open RFP process and robust community input through public hearings or forums at which the monitor candidates present their qualifications, and at which members of the public have a chance to ask questions, and provide feedback to the City and DOJ about the candidates.
- 3) The Statement of principles released earlier last month must be modified to include specific language requiring civilian engagement and oversight of the consent decree negotiations and the monitoring and implementation of reforms.
In addition, we ask that:
4) Once an agreement is reached between Baltimore City andthe Department of Justice, that the parties agree to a public comment period and a public hearing before the Federal Judge to receive and consider community feedback before the consent decree is approved.
Baltimore needs effective community policing and law enforcement that upholds equal justice and protects public safety by ensuring community accessibility, transparency, and accountability. The systemic barriers to justice identified in the April 10th findings letter by the Department of Justice will never be addressed until the Baltimore City Police Department makes an intentional decision to reorient itself in language, practice and policy of police as protectors, partners and fellow community members, rather than antagonists. No individual or collective body can measure the extent to which Baltimore’s policing systems have been reformed better than our city’s residents themselves.
We look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Justice and the City of Baltimore toward systemic police reforms that promote transparency, accountability, and true community policing. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss these requests in further detail at [email protected]
CJSJ members include:
1199 SEIU, ACLU of Maryland, Amnesty International, Baltimore Algebra Project, Beats, Rhymes, and Relief, Baltimore United for Change, CASA, Citibloc, Communities United, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Equity Matters, Empowerment Temple, Freddie Gray Project, Fusion Group, Jews United for Justice, Justice League, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Making Change, Maryland State Conference NAACP, No Boundaries Coalition, Peace by Piece, Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, Power Inside, SEIU 32BJ, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Southern Engagement Foundation, Ujima Progress, and Universal Zulu Nation.