A scathing report on "aggressive" policing in Baltimore has prompted its mayor to promise reforms. The probe followed the death of Freddie Gray in custody, which helped kickstart the "Black Lives Matter" campaign.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (pictured above center) said Baltimore would establish a "new culture" to protect citizens in the majority-black city over the "next few months."
At a joint news conference, the head of the US Justice Department's civil right division Vanita Gupta (right) said violations by officers had "deeply eroded the relationship between police and the community it serves."
She outlined a court-enforceable decree that would commit the city's police to improve procedures to avoid a lawsuit. The federal report requires changes in policing polices, training, data management and accountability systems.
Baltimore police commissioner Kevin Davis said officers who had committed violations had already been fired.
The department's report - based on a year-long probe and interviews with citizens, prosecutors, city officials and police - found that officers had been taught to use "aggressive tactics" and carried out dubious stops in mostly poor, black neighborhoods.
Officers acting out a "us versus them" mentality were influenced by "zero tolerance" policies propagated since the early 2000s under which people were arrested en masse for minor misdemeanors such as loitering, the report found.
The report documented "severe and unjustified disparities" in the rate of African Americans being stopped, searched and arrested - in violation of the US Constitution and US federal law.
No charges were filed following 26 of every 27 pedestrian stops. Black residents accounted for 84 percent of stops, although they make up just 63 percent of the population.
"The city's African Americans bore the brunt," Gupta said. "Nearly everyone who spoke to us … agreed the Baltimore Police Department needs sustainable reform."
Top city prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said the report was likely to "confirm what many in our city already know or have experienced firsthand."
'Good' and 'bad'
Mosby described the "vast majority" of Baltimore officers as "good officers."
"We also know that there are bad officers and that the department has routinely failed to oversee, train, or hold bad actors accountable," she said.
Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died a week after his neck was broken while shackled and left unrestrained in the back of a police van. His death set off riots.
Of six officers - three white and three black - put on trial, three were acquitted. Another officer's case ended in a mistrial. Charges were dropped against the others.
The case mirrored a nationwide outcry about the deaths of other African Americans at police hands across the country.
Police commissioner Davis said he had fired six police officers in 2016 alone.
The report's findings marked a "turning point for better policing, not just in Baltimore, but in our United States," Davis added.
ipj/msh (Reuters, AP)