The Baltimore Police Department Is Having Its Own Stop-and-Frisk Scandal

New York's not the only city with a stop-and-frisk program, or a stop-and-frisk problem.

Image
Flickr/Elvert Barnes

The Baltimore Police Department found itself in the hot seat this week over its stop-and-frisk policy. The controversy started on Monday, when the Baltimore Police Department announced it would no longer use the term "stop-and-frisk," due to the "negative connotations" associated with the NYPD's use of the phrase. But according to reporting by the Baltimore Sun's Justin Fenton, the change would be in name only:

"Anybody in any department that would keep that name, in my opinion, would be remiss," Rodriguez said in a recent interview.

Baltimore police say they'll now refer to the interactions as "investigative stops," dropping the word "frisk" from forms officers are required to fill out after having contact with citizens.

The change in name doesn't come with any new instruction for officers on how and when to perform the stops, but Rodriguez said police don't use the tactic in the way it was employed in New York.

The perception that the department was changing the name, but not its policy, drew a scathing response from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland:

"Whether we call it 'stop and frisk' or something else makes no difference to the Baltimore residents stopped and searched without any reasonable suspicion that they have done something wrong. The problem isn't the name - it's how police are treating people.

"In suggesting that the solution to BPD's problems with stop-and-frisk is a name change, rather than a change in practice, the Commissioner has all but rubber-stamped the status quo and provided no assurance that Baltimore residents will not be treated as inherently suspicious because of where they live or the color of their skin."

Apparently after reading the ACLU's response to the name change, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts contacted his deputy commissioner to "make sure the department was going further than a name change." The answer? It is. 

"I want our officers to know we don't just randomly stop people without cause, without a reason," Batts told reporters in Northeast Baltimore, where he said he and his aides recently performed a stop-and-frisk on a suspected gang hit man and explained to him why they were doing it.

When officers simply jump out of their cars and pat people down, Batts said, "that's unacceptable."

The existence of stop-and-frisk isn't the only thing civil liberties advocates want changed. There's also the issue of the department's reporting of stop-and-frisk. According to the Sun's Fenton, "police reported only 11 such stops" in 2005, in "but internal figures showed the number was in the tens of thousands." 

This incident also serves as a reminder that New York is not the only city in the country using stop-and-frisk. The Los Angeles Police Department began using stop-and-frisk under Commissioner William Bratton, and Philadelphia uses them, too, albeit more conservatively than New York. 

Top image: Flickr user Elvert Barnes

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