ACLU Condemns Baltimore Police Department for Failing to Comply With Settlement Agreement In Illegal Arrests Lawsuit

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
April 30, 2012 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE, MD – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is sharply criticizing the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) for failing to comply, in multiple critical respects, with a 2010 settlement in the ACLU’s lawsuit challenging a pattern of improper arrests by the department. The First Status Report of Independent Auditor Charles Wellford, released today, reveals that BPD officers did not or could not justify arrests for quality of life offenses in at least 35 percent of the cases examined; that the BPD is almost one and half years late in creating a database to allow it to effectively monitor officer and supervisor behavior; and that the BPD is improperly refusing to give the auditor records of arrests that resulted in persons being released without charge, the very arrests most likely to be improper, and the ones that led to the lawsuit in the first place.

“The ACLU insisted on an independent auditor because we worried that the Baltimore Police Department would not live up to its settlement obligations in the absence of oversight,” said David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. “This First Status Report shows that our skepticism was well placed, and demonstrates a police department that is not making a good faith or effective effort to correct its wrongdoing.”

The comprehensive settlement provides for significant reforms of the BPD’s arrest and monitoring practices. The suit, which was filed in 2006, and amended in 2007, was brought on behalf of 13 individual plaintiffs as well as the Maryland State Conference and Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP. As part of the settlement, the BPD committed to new policies and training to ensure officers knew the limits of their authority, and would address low level offenses with actions short of arrest whenever possible. The agreement also required the BPD to implement a new system of comprehensive data collection and monitoring, which would be overseen by an independent auditor. The job of the auditor was to ensure not only that the data is being kept and appropriately used and analyzed, but also to review probable cause statements to verify that officers had sufficient cause for an arrest, and that supervisors are adequately monitoring officers’ actions, and intervening as necessary.

The Auditor reviewed a random sample of 1,113 arrests for Quality of Life Offenses, and found that in 35 percent of the cases examined officers failed to articulate probable cause, or failed to justify making an arrest (as opposed to the lower levels of intervention such as a citation or warning) as the Settlement Agreement requires. That percentage does not include cases where officers made an arrest for some other non-Quality of Life offense.

The Report also points out that the City artificially lowered its rate of non-compliance in this report by refusing to turn over to the Auditor records related to arrests that resulted in the person being released without charge (RWOC’d). There were 231 such cases in the sample, fully 21% of the cases randomly selected for review.

The ACLU believes the City’s refusal to turn over these records violates the Settlement Agreement. It was the extraordinarily high numbers of arrests that were not prosecuted that, in part, led to the lawsuit in the first place. And arrests that are not prosecuted are the ones most likely to be lacking in probable cause, or to have been appropriately handled by some other intervention besides arrest, such as warning or citation. Furthermore, the BPD’s claim that it cannot provide records related to those arrests, because the arrests are automatically expunged when the individual is RWOC’d, pursuant to legislation passed in 2007, is flatly inconsistent with the law. The expungement law, which the ACLU drafted and supported, makes clear that expungement means the information cannot be released to the public, not that it has to be destroyed or deleted from the Department’s own files. And it also provides, at the specific request of the BPD, that the Department is prohibited from destroying any police records related to such arrests until three years after the expungement. Thus the City is legally required to keep the records of expunged arrests, and the Settlement agreement requires supervisors to review them, so there is no justification for refusing to make them available to the Auditor.

Finally, the Report reveals that the City has not yet created a tracking database required by the Settlement Agreement, which was supposed to be operational by October 27, 2010. The BPD committed to create a database to track each arrest for a quality of life offense, by officer, as well as track all citizen complaints by officer, among many other items. Supervisors were to be required to review each probable cause statement for each arrest involving a quality of life offense to verify that probable cause in fact existed, and that the officer adequately articulated why an arrest, as opposed to other intervention, was necessary. In addition, the database was to have trigger points that would alert supervisors to officers whose arrest or complaint history is out of the norm for other comparable officers. Supervisors were to meaningfully review those officers’ actions and intervene as necessary.

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