NOTE: In August 2021, the ACLU posted an updated report that clarifies how complaints are defined and calculated; lists officers involved in the highest number of incidents that resulted in complaints against them; and reflects officers who have not yet been identified from this analysis.
BALTIMORE, MD – Between 2015 and 2019, there were 13,392 complaints of misconduct filed against 1,826 Baltimore City police officers and 22,884 use of force incidents in Baltimore, according to a new report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland. Among the many disturbing facts that the report, “Chasing Justice,” uncovers are that 91 percent of those who the police targeted with use of force were Black residents and that six percent of Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers received approximately 33 percent of all complaints.
“Chasing Justice” reviews and cross-analyzes data BPD provided to Code for America’s Project Comport, which includes with five years of information about misconduct complaints, use of force incidents, and officer-involved shootings, from 2015 through 2019. The purpose of the report is to examine 1) race disparities in different aspects of policing, 2) how police departments contribute to violence in the community and further distrust of both the legal justice system and internal disciplinary process; and 3) the consequences of failing to hold officers and departments accountable.
“Police officers must be held accountable when they abuse and kill Black people,” said Joe Spielberger, public policy counsel for the ACLU and author of “Chasing Justice.” He continued: “This report sends a clear message to Maryland legislators that real police reform is necessary to keep Black people safe and to honor the many Black lives that have been lost because of police violence."
The facts exposed in “Chasing Justice” show why the five demands of a statewide coalition of more than 90 organizations in the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability are so important, in particular why the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR) must be repealed, why the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) must be reformed, why a statewide use of force bill is necessary, and why Baltimore must have local control of its police department.
From 2015-2019, there were 22,884 use of force incidents in Baltimore. While Black people make up 63 percent of Baltimore City’s population, 90.7 percent of those who the police used force on were Black people. Yet, Maryland is one of the few states that does not have a limit on police officers’ use of force.
“Chasing Justice” uncovers racism in how complaints are handled and discipline is meted out: Complaints by white residents were sustained at higher rates and complaints against Black officers were sustained at higher rates. Yet, Maryland residents currently do not have the right under the state’s public information law to see how all complaints of misconduct by officers are handled.
The report makes clear that improving public safety requires accounting for crimes committed by police officers themselves. From 2005 to 2011, police officers in Maryland were charged with 271 crimes in 18 counties and Baltimore City, including 138 crimes of violence. BPD officers had sustained complaints that ranged from criminal sexual offenses to fabrication of evidence – without losing their jobs. In fact, 469 individual BPD officers were the subject of at least one complaint of physical violence against a community member. But even when these complaints are sustained, officers usually remain on the force, because the special rights given to police under LEOBR shield them from discipline.
In addition, “Chasing Justice” reveals that police abuse and mass incarceration are not just a problem in Baltimore City. In the past 20 years, police in Maryland have killed more than 500 people. Black residents make up 63 percent of those killed by police in Maryland, even though only 31 percent of Marylanders are Black. This percentage is the second highest percentage in the country, and fifth highest racial disparity of any state between percentage of the population and percentage of people killed. And rural counties in Maryland incarcerate the highest number of residents per capita, particularly Wicomico, Worcester, and Dorchester counties.
“Our policing system is working exactly as intended from its inception, when white men in slave patrols targeted and captured Black freedom seekers to now when police still target and abuse Black people,” said Caylin Young, Public Policy Director for the ACLU. “We must reimagine policing and eliminate the economic bondage this system is designed to maintain. Enacting the five statewide police reform demands is a necessary first step to create the systemic reforms we need, and it will not be the last.”
In publishing “Chasing Justice,” the ACLU honors and remembers the countless Marylanders who the police have killed, and who are disproportionately Black, including Freddie Gray, Tyrone West, Christopher Brown, Korryn Gaines, Emanuel Oates, Anton Black, Robert White, William Green, Gary Hopkins Jr., Leonard Shand, and many others across the state.
Read “Chasing Justice” at ACLU of Maryland’s website here.