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DOJ: Baltimore PD Abused African-Americans, Trans Women, Sex Workers



In a scathing report released today, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) found that the Baltimore Police Department has routinely violated civil rights in numerous ways. Among many problems cited in the 163-page report, the DOJ found that Baltimore police regularly targeted Black residents for stops and searches, used excessive force, ignored or demeaned sexual assault victims, harassed transgender women, and tolerated sexual abuse by officers, especially of sex workers.

DOJ found that of the more than 300,000 pedestrian stops by BPD in the last five years, 44% were in two Black neighborhoods with just 12% of the city population, and only 3.7% led to citations or arrests. The report found Black residents were stopped more frequently even though they were less likely to have contraband, and in many cases police strip searched individuals without legal cause, validating Black residents' frustrations that they are unfairly and more harshly policed. The report tied the profiling of Black Baltimoreans to the city’s “zero tolerance” policing strategy that focused on stops, searches, and arrests for petty crimes such as loitering and disorderly conduct—an approach that has been harshly criticized by police reform advocates around the country.

Among the findings, DOJ reported several allegations of police mistreatment of transgender people, and expressed concern that “BPD’s interactions with transgender individuals reflect underlying unlawful gender bias.” DOJ cited frequent “disparaging and inappropriate comments” toward trans people and that “BPD officers refuse to acknowledge transgender women as women.” Community members told DOJ that “their interactions with BPD are degrading and dehumanizing and that, as a result, transgender individuals are afraid to report crime to law enforcement.” DOJ cited one trans woman who was repeatedly referred to as male and heard a female supervisor say, “I am not searching that.” DOJ also said police lacked policies to ensure appropriate searches of transgender people, “including ensuring that searches are conducted by a person of the appropriate gender.” In the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 46% said they were somewhat or very uncomfortable seeking police assistance. Of those who’d had contact with police, 22% of all respondents and 38% of Black respondents reported harassment or abuse.

DOJ also reported that BPD routinely failed to investigate sexual assaults, harassed and demeaned sexual assault victims, and failed to investigate sexual abuse by police. The report said indications that police disregarded reports of sexual assault by sex workers “a particularly troubling trend given the vulnerability of those individuals to rape.” It also cited complaints that officers targeted sex workers “to coerce sexual favors from them in exchange for avoiding arrest,” and that BPD failed to investigate these complaints. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of 2011 NTDS respondents who had done sex work reported mistreatment by police, including 9% who reported sexual abuse.

In the coming months, DOJ and the Baltimore PD will negotiate a consent decree, to be approved by a federal judge, on the reforms that will be made to address these civil rights violations.  DOJ is inviting community input on proposed reforms at [email protected]. DOJ has included protections for transgender people in police reform agreements in several cities, starting with New Orleans in 2012. NCTE continues to call for DOJ to release model police department policies on officer sexual misconduct and on interactions with LGBT people, and to make anti-profiling policies a federal grant requirement.

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