April 21, 2020
A survey of more than 600 residents offered a blistering review of Baltimore Police, with a majority saying they did not believe the department reduces crime and that they “lack trust and confidence in BPD.”
The survey by Morgan State University’s Institute for Urban Research was conducted as part of the the city’s ongoing federal consent decree in collaboration with and paid for by the monitoring team, an entity funded by the city to help the police department implement sweeping policing reforms.
The survey found that more than 60% of participants say they are dissatisfied with the police department, including 57% who are “very dissatisfied.” Only 12% said they were satisfied.
Only a few respondents blamed their feelings on high crime rates or on the department’s limited manpower and resources. Instead, most who called themselves dissatisfied said officers need to do “their jobs.”
“A majority of participants lack trust and confidence in BPD,” the survey found, including 45% of residents who said they were nervous when they saw a police officer.
“I wasn’t surprised by the findings,” said Natasha C. Pratt-Harris, the survey’s principal investigator, and associate professor and coordinator of the Criminal Justice program in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Morgan.
Pratt-Harris grew up in Northeast Baltimore and said she has witnessed the city’s changes, including to perceptions of police. Respondents spoke of both older and more recent negative experiences, she said.
“Because we are a city that has had problems, it makes sense to me" she said.
The residents were interviewed over the course of 2018 and 2019, and were asked generally about their perceptions of the department, and not limited to specific time frames. The survey asked residents about their perceptions before and after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, whose in-custody death and ensuing protests led to the DOJ investigation.
The survey said 53% had witnessed officers using excessive force, and several shared personal stories about how they or their family members were unfairly treated.
“My brother and I were waiting on a bus stop. Four undercover officers jumped out of a vehicle to harass us and ask us questions about what we were doing along with illegal search and seizure of our belongings," around 2015, one resident said.
Another time, the same resident said his brother was "brutally attacked by six police officers. He showed no resistance and had his hands up, but the officers continued to beat him and then tased him. He did not touch any officers but was charged with six counts of assaulting an officer — supposedly one count for each officer that was beating him up. Those counts were later all thrown out.”
The survey found that “more than half of respondents answered yes to the question of whether they had personally observed BPD engaging in what the participant judged to be racial profiling.”
When asked whether officers treated people respectfully, only one person agreed, and no one “strongly agreed,” while 44% either neither “agreed nor disagreed" and 52% “strongly disagreed.”
Despite the findings, Pratt-Harris said the responses also indicate many residents want a positive relationship with its police force.
Many residents “reported wanting to build relationships with BPD and feeling conditionally comfortable communicating with BPD ‘if and when they had to'” the report found.
“Participants expressed a willingness to engage,” the report said.
As part of the ongoing consent decree, additional surveys will be conducted to see if residents’ perceptions change, and will focus more narrowly on recent interactions with officers, Pratt-Harris said.
One area that could provide a road map for the improving perceptions of the department is changing how officers engage residents.
“Nearly seven out of ten participants have not personally observed BPD take the time to meet members of their community/neighborhood,” the survey said. “Three-fifths (58%) have not personally observed BPD present and patrolling their community or neighborhood regularly, while about two in five (42%) have regularly observed BPD officers in their community or neighborhood.”