A Short Attention Span

A Short Attention Span

Ten years ago, a City Council Committee, under a Chairman who shall go nameless (his name starts with “O’” and is neither German nor Ukrainian), took a look at the Baltimore City criminal justice system. Its central focus was Baltimore’s notorious Central Booking Facility, a state-financed facility whose operation has important implications for Baltimore law enforcement. The crux of its recommendations was that “Abating nuisance crime reduces violent crime”; its recommended methodology was set out in the concluding paragraph of its Executive Summary:

“[W]e must improve our Central Booking Process, reform our Citation System, and create our own Compstat processs. We must also begin summarily disposing of minor cases, and routinely seek enhanced penalties for repeat offenders.” A Preliminary Report ..by the Committee on Legislative Investigations, October 2, 1996″, pg.3.

In 1997, the Committee returned to the attack, urging that “the Court system…adjudicate 70% of its less serious cases within a day or two after arrest” (pg.2) and further urging as its first three recommendations:

Improve and Streamline the Central Booking Process
Expand Citation Authority so Officers can more easily address nuisance crimes.
Create an Arraignment Court to more quickly adjudicate misdemeanor crimes.

The Committee noted that the State’s Attorney Association caused added citation authority to be defeated on a tie vote, and that the District Court had refused to permit judges to sit in a police facility, but also noted that the city Circuit Court had created an arraignment court, that there was a reduction in average booking time at Central Booking, and that there was interest in creation of a night court “along the lines of the Mid-Town Manhattan Community Court”. (pg.3,”Improving Public Safety in Baltimore City”, Committee on Legislative Investigations, Fall 1997).

Ten years on, where are we? The General Assembly has failed to enhance the availability of citations, except as to offenses involving sale of alcoholic beverages to intoxicated persons or minors. Even the most minor drug offenses may not be charged by citation. But the records of the 2006 session record the introduction of no bills which would have altered the availability of citations. The O’Malley administration, put simply, has given up on this project.. Let contemporary newspaper headlines and foundation reports tell the tale of the consequences:

N. Fuller, “Police Actions Draw Complaints”, Baltimore Sun, August 10,2006,3B (detention for 17 hours for driving on suspended license)

J. Fritze, “Duncan Ctiticizes City Arrests”, June 17, 2006,3B

J. Bykowicz and C.Yakiatis, “City Sued for Arrests Without Charges”, Baltimore Sun, (28 hours and 54 hours detention for loitering)

B. Trettien, “City Policing Strategy Carries a Heavy Price”, Baltimore Sun (30% of -6- warrantless arrests dismissed without charge; 20,974 in one year)

“G.Sentementes, “O’Malley, Hamm Hear Criticism of Arrest Policy”, Baltimore Sun, January 5, 2006, 1A

G. Sentementes, “Arrests Set Record in August Reflecting Aggressive Police Strategies”, Baltimore Sun, October 13,2005, 3B (8964 arrests; no prosecution in 2961 cases)

G. Sentementes, “City in Central Booking Lawsuit”, Baltimore Sun, September 30, 2005,1B (80 persons released on court order after not being charged within 24 hours)

P. Reuter, et al, “Assessing the Crackdown on Marijuana in Maryland”, Abell Foundation, May 1, 2001 (10,000 annual marijuana possession arrests, 3000 serving pretrial jail time averaging 7 days)

The effect of a ‘broken windows’ strategy without the summons power necessary to maintain community support of it is the multiplication of extrajudicial punishment and the estrangement of the police from the community. The effect is to saddle tens of thousands of young people with unnecessary arrest records, while overcrowding the Central Booking Unit. The New York programs that the Mayor properly admires recognize this: “As implemented by the NYPD, ‘broken windows’ policing is not the rote and mindless ‘zero tolerance’ approach that critics often contend that it is. Case studies show that police vary their approach to quality-of-life crimes from citations and arrest on one extreme to warnings and reminders on the other, depending on the circumstances of the offense.” G. Kellogg and W. Souza, “Do Police Matter? An Analysis of the Impact of New York City’s Police Reforms”, Manhattan Institute Civic Report No. 22, December 2001. After six years, the Mayor has failed to assemble the necessary pieces for a viable criminal justice program.

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Posted in: Criminal Justice, News Series