By William J. Ford
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday that it is opening an investigation into alleged discriminatory hiring and promotion practices by the Maryland State Police.
The department has the authority to launch an investigation known as “pattern and practice” to assess if employment discrimination took place based on race, color, national origin, sexual orientation and religion.
“Our investigation will determine whether the Maryland Department of State Police has created racially discrimination barriers for Black people seeking job opportunities and promotions and, if so, identify the reforms necessary to ensure equal employment opportunities.” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “All communities deserve law enforcement agencies that are built upon principles of fairness and equity.”
The department said it informed the governor and state police superintendent about the investigation, which hasn’t reached any conclusions.
Col. Woodrow Jones III, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, said in a statement that he welcomes the investigation and will ensure the agency cooperates with the Justice Department.
“Significant actions have been taken and are continuing to address even the perception of racism or unfair treatment of any kind,” he said. “I have been committed to addressing issues of diversity and inclusiveness throughout my tenure and work is continuing.”
Jones also said the agency has worked with several organizations to improve the department such as the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.
State lawmakers heard complaints from Black state troopers that includes a report last year highlighting racial discrimination and an incident in which a banana was left on the hood of trooper’s car.
As the legislature worked on and approved police reform measures, Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-District 24) of Landover said some Black officers worried unsubstantiated complaints revealed publicly can harm their reputation and of their families.
Benson couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
Sen. William Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County), who chairs the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, said he respects Jones and his work in trying to improve the state police.
“It seems like a systemic problem that needs to be addressed obviously that has entrenched for a long time,” he said. “We’ll see what the investigation bears out. If what is suspected is true, it’s certainly unfortunate.”
Nationwide, the Justice Department continues investigations into police departments that include Louisville, Kentucky, and Minneapolis. Police in those two cities killed Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, which led to international protests against police brutality and racism.
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