Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced Friday that the Justice Department has opened a civil “pattern or practice” investigation into the Baltimore Police Department to determine whether officers have committed systemic constitutional violations.
In her first news conference as attorney general, Lynch said that the broad investigation will focus on the police department’s use of force, and its stops, searches and arrests, as well as whether there is a practice of discriminatory policing.
“Our goal is to work with the community, public officials, and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore,” said Lynch. “Ultimately, this process is meant to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need – including training, policy guidance and equipment – to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety.”
In addition to gathering information directly from community members, pattern or practice investigations involve interviewing police officers and local officials and gathering information from public defenders and prosecutors, Lynch said. The investigation will also involve observing officer activities through ride-alongs and reviewing documents and specific incidents relevant to the probe.
Lynch said the investigation is separate from the department’s criminal civil rights investigation related to the case of Freddie Gray, the young man whose death while in police custody ignited protests and rioting in Baltimore.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called on the Justice Department earlier this week to open a federal investigation after the state’s attorney filed criminal charges against six Baltimore officers who were involved in Gray’s arrest.
“We all know that Baltimore continues to have a fractured relationship between the police and the community,” Rawlings-Blake (D) said when she asked the Justice Department for federal help. “I needed to look for any and all resources I could bring to my city to get this right for my community.”
On Thursday night, after reports surfaced that the Justice Department would open a pattern or practice investigation, Baltimore’s police commission welcomed the review.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Anthony W. Batts told WBAL-TV. “We could use the extra weight. Lawsuits are down. Citizen complaints are down. Officer-involved shootings are down. But the community doesn’t feel it.”
In her first official trip as attorney general, Lynch visited Baltimore on Tuesday and met with the mayor, law enforcement officials and community leaders. She also met with Gray’s family and spoke with an officer who was injured in the violence. Vanita Gupta, acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, has also been meeting with Baltimore officials since the outbreak of violence after Gray’s funeral April 27.
Source: The Washington Post | Sari Horwitz