September 24, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD -- On August 12, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland filed a request under the Maryland Public Information Act regarding Baltimore Police Department (BPD) "stop and frisk" policies and practices, including who was stopped, the articulated reasons for searches, and what weapons and contraband were found for those searches. On September 23, the BPD provided a partial response to the ACLU's MPIA request.

The following can be attributed to Sonia Kumar, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland:

"Whether we call it 'stop and frisk' or something else makes no difference to the Baltimore residents stopped and searched without any reasonable suspicion that they have done something wrong.  The problem isn't the name - it's how police are treating people.

By law, an officer must have reasonable suspicion that someone has committed or is about to commit a crime before stopping him or her.  But that suspicion alone is not enough to justify a frisk during the stop.  In order to frisk, an officer must also reasonably suspect that the person stopped is armed.

Yet, as deployed in Baltimore and around the country, people of color who are totally innocent of any wrongdoing have been subjected to totally baseless stops and searches by police who are on fishing expeditions.  The ACLU routinely hears from Baltimore residents whose rights have been violated in this way.  Not only are such stops illegal, but they also corrode the relationship between police and the people whose help they need to keep everyone safe.

We do not need to change the name of the policy.  We need the Commissioner to enforce the policies already on the books that require officers to document their use of stop-and-frisk and that require supervisory review to ensure that officers are complying with the law. The fact that BPD needs two months to provide information about how stop-and-frisk is being carried out in Baltimore raises serious questions about whether the officials in charge know what their officers are doing -- and undermines their claims that none of their officers are abusing the tactic in violation of the law. 

In suggesting that the solution to BPD's problems with stop-and-frisk is a name change, rather than a change in practice, the Commissioner has all but rubber-stamped the status quo and provided no assurance that Baltimore residents will not be treated as inherently suspicious because of where they live or the color of their skin."