Baltimore asked for a Justice Department investigation into its police practices, and now it is getting one.
Loretta Lynch, just five days into her tenure as attorney general, announced on Friday that she was launching a formal inquiry into whether the Baltimore Police Department has engaged “in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.” The probe is the latest and most aggressive federal response to the untimely death of Freddie Gray in the back of a police van—an incident that Lynch said had “severed” the already frayed trust between the citizens of Baltimore and the men and women entrusted to protect them.
“If unconstitutional policies or practices are found, we will seek a court-enforceable agreement to address those issues,” Lynch said. “We will also continue to move forward to improve policing in Baltimore even as the pattern or practice investigation is underway. Our goal is to work with the community, public officials and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore.”
The Justice Department has conducted similar “pattern or practice” civil-rights investigations in dozens of municipalities, but no report was more shocking in recent years than the one resulting from the department’s probe in Ferguson, Missouri. That study, released two months ago by Attorney General Eric Holder, found that beyond the single shooting of Michael Brown, law enforcement officials had used excessive and abusive police tactics, disproportionately against African Americans, as a means of raising revenue for the government.