City residents feel somewhat safe despite a high crime rate, but contend that Baltimore Police officers are ineffective at reducing crime, do not quickly solve cases, and don’t work well with the communities they serve, according to a new community poll conducted by Morgan State University.

The results of the second community survey, mandated by the Baltimore Police Department’s federal court oversight, suggest that residents’ attitudes toward local law enforcement remain dismal, despite widespread reforms.

Just 15% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the Police Department quickly solves cases and arrests criminals, the survey found. About 25% agreed or strongly agreed that the Police Department effectively reduces crime, and a question about whether the agency has good working relationships with community members similarly produced 1 out of 4 agreement.

“They’re not professional, man. They don’t treat the citizens with dignity, and they don’t treat us like they care for us,” one city resident quoted in the survey responded. “They just there for the job, just for the money.”

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Answers to survey questions varied significantly depending on who you asked. For example, white respondents were far more likely than Black respondents to report that they observed police offers patrolling and felt safe in their neighborhoods. They were also far less likely than their Black counterparts to report having seen Baltimore officers using “verbally abusive language toward civilians,” the report found.

In response to the report, the Baltimore Police Department said that the agency remains committed to “improving our community policing efforts and working alongside our communities to create a safer Baltimore for all.”

“We know we have more work to do to increase trust in our services and this survey highlights that fact,” Lindsey Eldridge, department spokesperson, said in a statement. “We have made community engagement a top priority at the department, including community participation in the policy and training development process, the ongoing establishment of community policing plans, and broadening our transparency efforts with additional data and compliance review reporting.”

The survey was couched somewhat in a court filing by the independent monitoring team gauging the Police Department’s compliance with its federal consent decree. In submitting the survey for the record, the monitoring team wrote that, although it “produced illuminating data about city resident attitudes regarding policing in Baltimore, it did not produce results that can be validly generalized to the entire population of Baltimore.”

“In other words, the parties do not believe that the results can be said to reflect the views of Baltimoreans,” Ken Thompson, head of the monitoring team, wrote in the filing. “IUR [The Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University] maintains that the survey’s recruitment process generated a representative sample that included traditionally harder-to-reach underrepresented populations.”

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Thompson, who is the great uncle of Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson, said the monitoring team “remains committed to constructing in future years a survey that can be generalized to the entire population of Baltimore.”

In an interview with The Baltimore Banner, Natasha Pratt-Harris, the principal investigator for the survey, said that there was a “steady beat” from the parties involved in the consent decree — the U.S. Department of Justice, the Police Department and the monitoring team — that they wanted something more closely representing a “household survey.”

Pratt-Harris, however, said the consent decree necessitated a more expansive community survey, which meant outreach that extended beyond households and included interviews with people on the streets who are more likely to have more interactions with officers. To that end, the group randomly selected three streets from each of the city’s nine police districts and canvassed them for respondents.

“Policing does not happen at someone’s household,” Pratt-Harris said. “Policing happens in communities.”

The survey was based on more than 400 interviews conducted in two phases: the random sampling from September 2021 to February 2023, and a “purposive sample” focusing on harder-to-reach demographics, such as non-English speakers and LGBTQ people, that were underrepresented in the random sampling. That second phase stretched from June 2022 to March 2023.

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Respondents were recorded as being 61% Black, 22% white, 7.9% multiracial, 1.9% Native American, 1.2% Hispanic, 1.2% Asian, and about 3.5% were listed as “other” or “data not available.” They were 51% female and had a median age of 40 to 44.

The report from Morgan State researchers is filled with skeptical commentary from city residents. Their sentiments are nothing new to those familiar with previous monitoring team reports on the Police Department’s lack of community policing and the criticisms routinely raised by community members and the City Council that represents them.

A table showing results from a community survey on attitudes toward public safety by Morgan State University researchers. The survey, mandated by the Baltimore Police Department’s federal consent decree, was released in October 2023. (Morgan State University)

One common thread among the observations: that police officers spend too much time in their cars and do not regularly interact with the people living in the neighborhoods they patrol.

“A lot of the youth don’t have nothing to do,” one resident responded. “A lot of the crime come from bored misguided kids, they be looking for something to get into and are not being shown any better alternatives.

“Unfortunately it results in higher youth incarceration but the police not doing anything to fix the problem. If anything they just add to the problem, they don’t even try to build a relationship with the community.”

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Not everyone was critical.

“I think that they go beyond the call of duty for the things they do for their neighborhood and community,” one resident responded. “They don’t get enough credit for what they do.”

As a whole, attitudes about Baltimore officers in the most heavily policed neighborhoods appear to have remained largely skeptical, even with the Police Department under court oversight since 2017. They represent a shortcoming of the federal consent decree, which is supposed to restore trust in those communities.

That disconnect between police and residents was at the forefront of public discourse this summer after an annual Brooklyn Day block party culminated in one of Baltimore’s worst-ever mass shootings, with 30 people shot, the majority of them young people, with two of the victims killed.

In the wake of the tragedy, the Police Department released a highly critical report of its own response to the block party and highlighted how its lack of relationships with the community failed residents. In his campaign for City Council approval, Commissioner Richard Worley said that emphasizing community policing would be his number one priority.

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“I’m going to push, if I get into office, to enforce more foot patrols, getting out of the car and community engagement,” Worley told the City Council last month.

Ben Conarck is a criminal justice reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Previously, he covered healthcare and investigations for the Miami Herald and criminal justice for the Florida Times-Union.

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