Civil rights activists and liberal advocates have loudly charged that behind the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American who died while in police custody, is a racially prejudiced Baltimore police department that continues to torment the city’s poor minority neighborhoods. The critics haven’t looked at the numbers.
Here’s what the data shows about the racial makeup of Baltimore’s finest:
* Of the 2,745 active duty police officers in the department — 1,445 — more than half are African-American, Hispanic, Asian or Native American, according to data provided by the Baltimore police department to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
* Four of its top six commanders are either African-American or Hispanic.
* More than 60 percent of the incumbents at the highest command levels hail from minority communities.
* Among the 46 Baltimore police officers who hold the rank of captain and above, 25 are from ethnic or racial minority groups. That constitutes 54 percent of the command leadership.
In other words, Baltimore is a black-majority city led by a police force whose officers are mostly racial minorities as well.
“I’m not shocked by the numbers. The Baltimore department is representative of the community as a whole at every level of the organization,” said Darrell W. Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association in an interview with TheDCNF. “It’s not just the command staff. It’s at all the way through.”
His organization is a professional association of police chiefs and sheriffs representing the largest cities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Stephens has served at all levels, from a foot cop to a police chief.
Anthony W. Batts, an African-American, was hired by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, also African-American, in 2012 after serving as police chief in Oakland and Long Beach, Calif. Rawlings-Blake put Batts in charge of reforming the department.
Under Batts, Baltimore was one of eight cities participating in an experimental Obama administration police reform program run by the Department of Justice and its Office of Community Oriented Police Services, or COPS. The program was designed to provide policing that was less adversarial and emphasized a cooperative spirit in poor neighborhoods.
Batts disbanded a tough-on-crime unit called the Violent Crimes Impact Section, the source of many citizen complaints about police brutality against individuals across the racial spectrum.
He also invited community leaders to participate on official promotion boards for all candidates who sought the rank of captain or higher. Promotions were a contentious issue among minorities who felt they were not fully considered when top leadership positions became available.
Captain Eric Kowalczyk, now the police department’s chief spokesman, explained what it was like when he sought a promotion from lieutenant to captain. “I had six people from the community who were on my panel,” he said.
“Community leaders, community association presidents and others asked me very challenging questions about my views on community policing, what it means to me to be a city police officer, my views on crime enforcement,” he said.
Batts also added an Office of Internal Oversight to the department’s Professional Standards and Accountability Bureau, which investigated charges of police brutality.
The bureau’s head for the last two-and-a-half years was Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, who reported directly to Batts. Rodriguez overhauled the department’s investigation of police shootings, in-custody deaths and use-of-force incidents that resulted in serious injury or death.
Rodriguez announced his retirement April 15, four days before the death of Freddie Gray, a Baltimore resident with 12 prior arrests. Gray died after being taken into custody in an arrest involving three white and three African-American Baltimore police officers.
The officers have been charged with multiple offenses, including murder and manslaughter, and the Department of Justice is conducting a “pattern-and-practices” investigation of allegations of racial discrimination in the city’s police department.
NEXT PAGE: ‘There’s Been Significant Minority Leadership In The Department For Quite Some Time’
The data on the racial makeup of the department flies in the face of repeated allegations of racially biased law enforcement.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat who has represented Maryland in Congress since winning her first House seat in 1977, decried the police department, saying “in many cities throughout the country, including my own city of Baltimore, the trust between community and police is broken” as a result of discriminatory policing.
Members of the Baltimore City Council also denounced their own police department, writing to the mayor, “The City of Baltimore is in desperate need of a binding federal review of the police department.”
In announcing the federal investigation, Attorney General Loretta Lynch charged that Baltimore police officers “use excessive force, including deadly force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing.”
Stephens, however, says that the most important feature of the Baltimore police department is that a large percentage of minorities serve in command levels.
“Leadership is incredibly important,” he said. “They set the tone for the department. They set the direction. They are responsible for holding the department accountable. There’s been significant minority leadership in the department for quite some time.”
Apparently mindful of the numbers, some critics argue that a large minority presence in a police department does not mean enforcement will be unbiased.
Baltimore area resident Stacia L. Brown wrote in an April 29 New Republic article titled “Having Black Cops and Black Mayors Doesn’t End Police Brutality” that African-American police officers can suffer from “unconscious” racial bias.
And a Vox Media article on May 7 supported Brown, arguing that “racially skewed” policing tactics can force black police officers to act with “subconscious bias” against their own kind.
“These policing tactics can actually create and accentuate personal, subconscious bias by increasing the likelihood that officers will relate blackness with criminality or danger — leading to what psychologists call ‘implicit bias’ against black Americans.”
Batts, however, sounded a different tone in 2013 when he issued his blueprint for reform, called a “strategic plan for improvement.”
In an open letter to Baltimore residents, Batts said his plan “is built on a wide-ranging examination of all aspects of our department” and that most of all he wanted his officers “to uphold the highest ethical and professional standards.”
Kowalczyk said internal changes in the police department don’t matter if they aren’t felt on the street.
“We have to get the community to feel the changes,” he said. “Until the community feels the changes that we’re making, we still have a lot of work to do.”
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