City's 'stop and frisk' oversight criticized

Batts says practice 'curbed'

November 19, 2013|By Justin Fenton and Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore police say they stopped residents 123,000 times last year but found only nine handguns — a figure civil rights advocates say is so implausible that it raises questions about whether the agency is actually monitoring the conduct of officers on the streets.

"I think what's become apparent is that the department can make no credible assertion at this point about how they are using stop and frisk or what it accomplishes," said Sonia Kumar, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

"It really suggests a lack of supervision and accountability that is so critical in terms of how police are using their authority on the street," she said.

The ACLU recently received department data on 90,000 of the stops that have been analyzed. Another 33,000 haven't been entered into police databases yet.

Police said 494 stops involved a search, leading to 10 weapons of various types — and drugs in another 10 instances. The ACLU request was spurred by concerns over "stop and frisk" searches, though the department has stopped using that term to distance itself from controversy over police tactics in New York City.

ACLU officials said the data suggest that the agency does not track "whether their stops and searches are typically conducted in compliance with the law."

The release of the data followed Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts' appearance on a panel in New York City, where he said he had moved away from aggressive policing in an effort to repair ties with the community. He also claimed to have curbed the use of stop-and-frisk, saying, "That was taking place until I came into the picture.

"But now my murder rate is going up," he said, according to a video of the discussion.

The conversation took place at a mayoral transition forum in New York, where Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has vowed to move away from stop and frisk tactics. The panelists discussed the potential fallout from moving away from aggressive policing.

"Now the discussion is, 'By you changing that, did you cause that crime rate to go up?' " Batts told the crowd. "That puts me in a political hotbed."

The Baltimore Police Department did not respond to requests for comment about the stop data or for clarification of Batts' comments. He has not previously said he was moving the department away from using stop and frisk but has said the agency must use it properly.

In a Public Information Act request, the ACLU sought summary data on stop and frisk, including memos, analyses and "other documents illustrating supervisory review and management of stop and frisk tactics."

Two months later, the department provided only one-paragraph summary data, and said additional documents would cost thousands of dollars and take months longer.

Baltimore police officers are required to document many interactions on "citizen contact" forms. Those include all vehicle stops — whether or not they result in an arrest or citation — all "involuntary detentions not resulting in arrest," and all stop and frisks.

Additionally, state law requires police to report each "stop and frisk" interaction to Maryland State Police.

The data received by the ACLU covers 2010 to 2012, when the department was overseen by former Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. It shows police stops had been on the rise, from 59,000 in 2010 to 123,000 in 2012.

During those stops, police said, they rarely searched people and had little to show when they did, according to the department data. Of the 203 searches in 2010, police recovered drugs 18 times, as well as 12 guns and four knives. Of 209 searches in 2011, police recovered drugs nine times and confiscated two guns and one knife.

"It seems highly unlikely that, of 123,221 investigative stops in 2012, only 494 resulted in searches," the civil liberties group wrote in a recent letter to the department. "Nor does it speak well of BPD that the only items it can report recovered out of more than one hundred and twenty thousand stops were 10 controlled dangerous substances, 9 guns and 1 knife."

Kumar said the department "provided broad numbers that kind of make no sense, with zero explanation or zero records to allow anyone else to make sense of their significance." And she said department protocols require the agency to perform audits and exercise general oversight over stop and frisk.

Baltimore Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez has said police here don't use the tactic the way police do in New York, and moved to change the name to the broader term "investigative stops."

But the ACLU says the agency appears to have little understanding of how officers use their powers.

Batts himself conducted a stop and frisk in September, but experts interviewed by The Baltimore Sun said his example may not meet the standards for such stops. The department has refused to release the form associated with that particular stop.

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