The Associated Press
BALTIMORE- Two civil liberties groups sued the Baltimore police Thursday, claiming they arrest tens of thousands of people illegally each year for minor infractions and submit innocent people to humiliating treatment.The suit by the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union claims that the police department has refused to change its practices, calling them "patently unconstitutional" and detrimental to the residents of Baltimore, which is 65 percent black.
"The time has come to rein in this abuse of power and stop these unconstitutional and illegal acts," the lawsuit says.
Last year, police arrested more than 76,400 individuals, the suit claims. Thirty percent of those cases were dismissed after a preliminary review.
Many of those arrests were for such offenses as loitering, impeding or obstructing pedestrian traffic and disturbing the peace, the suit alleges.
It names the mayor, present and past police officials, state corrections officials, and individual officers. It claims that the department rewards officers based on the quantity, rather than the quality, of arrests, and that it punishes those who fall behind.
The Maryland Central Booking and Intake Center also routinely conducts strip searches, including body cavity searches, and holds people in filthy, overcrowded conditions, according to the suit.
The police department's policy of making arrests in cases that officers know won't be prosecuted is both unreasonable and unconstitutional, said ACLU attorney David Rocah. The problem appears to flow from policies set by the administration of Mayor Martin O'Malley, he said.
"We're not saying police officers are evil, but we also aren't saying this is a problem of just a few rogue cops," he said. "Police officers do what they're told. The message they're getting is, make more arrests and you're a good officer."
The plaintiffs will be unable to back up their allegations, said city Solicitor Ralph Tyler.
"The fact that the state's attorney doesn't charge a case proves only that the state's attorney doesn't charge a case," he said. "It doesn't necessarily mean that police made an illegal arrest."
The mayor and police commissioner did not return calls. State officials were not prepared to comment, a spokeswoman said.
Baltimore bucked a national trend this year, with a 2.5 percent drop in murders and an overall 3.6 percent drop in violent crime, according to a preliminary report released this week by the FBI.