BALTIMORE — Abdul-Jaami Salaam felt his heartbeat quicken the minute he saw what the police officers were wearing: jeans, T-shirts and bulletproof vests. “Here come the cowboys,” he thought.
It was a steamy night in July 2013. Mr. Salaam, a mental health counselor here, had just pulled his blue minivan into his driveway, his 3-year-old son in the back seat, which was piled high with groceries. The officers jumped out of their Jeep, looking for drugs or guns. Mr. Salaam had neither.
The beating he took that night landed Mr. Salaam in the hospital, bruised and bloodied, and cost Baltimore taxpayers $70,000 when he won a lawsuit. But beyond the payout, the episode raises a serious question about the culture of law enforcement: Are officers more likely to flout the law when they are not in uniform?
In March, the Baltimore police commissioner, Kevin Davis, abruptly disbanded plainclothes teams — known here as knockers or jump-out boys — after seven members of a gun task force were indicted on federal charges of stealing drugs, guns and money. One is accused of moonlighting as a heroin dealer.