Baltimore Police Department Report: What Happens When Armed, Dangerously Undertrained People Are Given Power With No Oversight

There are so many nauseating passages in the Justice Department’s excoriating report on the practices of the Baltimore police department that you could spend all day vomiting and you’d still need reserves of puke to expel later.  There’s the almost absurd level of racism involved in the treatment of alleged and actual criminals and completely innocent people who just happen to be there when a cop rolls up.  There’s the wantonly cruel attitude towards victims of sexual assault.  And what comes through in nearly every case is just how dangerously under- or just plain untrained and unregulated the cops of Baltimore are, which puts the responsibility for this nightmare squarely on the leadership of the BPD and the city.

For instance, here’s a particularly appalling example: “BPD’s policies on use of force, and on use of specific weapons were, until very recently, missing critical elements.  BPD implemented its first policy governing officers’ use of batons in 2016.  The Department’s first policy governing the use of oleoresin capsicum, or ‘OC’ spray was implemented in 2015.  Despite the previous lack of policy guidance on the use of these weapons, the Department had issued these weapons to its officers for decades.”

You got that?  Other than vague “Training Guidelines,” the cops of Baltimore had no policy on use of batons.  Batons.  Which cops having been using since there have been, you know, cops.  No policy saying “Don’t beat someone until they’re bloody for shits and giggles” until 2016.  And nothing on pepper spray until 2015.

Oh, but wait.  What if you’re a totally old school prick cop who likes to use his bare hands to take down some uppity Negro?  Well, until recently, go crazy, but don’t leave too much of a mark: “Importantly, until its 2016 policy update, BPD did not require a number of types of force by BPD officers to be reported.  This included takedowns, punches, control holds and pain compliance techniques, unless a subject complained of pain, or injury resulted.  Our review of BPD’s reports suggests that, in practice, force involving an officer’s hands was generally only reported if the subject sustained injuries requiring medical attention.”  When you combine that with the fact that “Until July 2016, BPD policies on force failed to encourage any de-escalation strategies,” you’ve pretty much got an intensely combustible situation.  Especially considering that “until recently, BPD had no comprehensive training on de-escalation strategies to guide officers on how to resolve incidents without resorting to force.”

When you get to the actual training police officers received, especially on use of force, it is somewhere between “unconstitutional” and “actively harmful.”  For instance, “BPD’s Defensive Tactics training teaches officers an erroneous legal standard for excessive force.  It separates excessive force into (1) ‘perceived’ excessive force; (2) ‘intentional’ excessive force; and (3) ‘unintentional’ excessive force.  This separation between ‘perceived,’ ‘intentional’ and ‘unintentional’ excessive force has no place under well-established Fourth Amendment standards governing excessive force.”

But, you might say, obviously officers know about some kind of policy, right?  Nah, don’t be an idiot: “[U]ntil recently, officers had insufficient access to Departmental policies. Officers received a policy manual in the Academy upon joining the Department, but later updates to policies were not distributed in a manner that ensured officers received and reviewed the updated policy.  Officers receive policy updates through their email, which many officers do not frequently check or have access to because Department computers in the precincts are old, outdated, and frequently break down.”

Read the whole thing, if you have the stomach for it.  You can see the pattern of cover-ups, the cavalier attitude towards the law by law enforcement, and the gut-wrenching violence.  And remember that all those recent changes to policy and training occurred only because the cops were too public with some of their murders.  In other words, they got caught.

Frankly, the fact that there haven’t been anti-cop riots every day in Baltimore shows just how successful terrorism can be.

Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on August 11, 2016, on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.

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