Community Policing: Its a Start

Baltimore City is shifting to a new policing strategy, one more based on community policing and targeting repeat offenders. This move is a slight departure from the O'Malley "zero tolerance" strategy that focused on quality of life arrests, a strategy that I believe is horribly flawed.

The Sun summarizes the new approach:

Some aspects of the plan, such as having federal prosecutors take over serious gun cases, have been a part of both O'Malley's crime-fighting strategies and new ones that have begun to emerge.

But other initiatives - such as evolving anti-gang and gun violence reduction strategies - represent a change in direction for the Police Department. It is an ambitious undertaking that will require unprecedented cooperation between all levels of the criminal justice system to target violent offenders, a small number of whom are believed to be responsible for most serious crime.

The idea is that once a person is identified, police, prosecutors, parole and probation officers and social service workers bring the full weight of their offices to pressure offenders into giving up their criminal lifestyle.

Now, I have no clue how this new strategy will work out, but at least it shows that the city's not-so-new leaders are willing to take a chance on some new ideas.

There still appears to be no change in the drug arrest policy, and I find the idea of "scaring" a hardened criminal straight completely ridiculous. If they city wants to do interventions, they should head to the cities middle schools and improve the abysmal conditions at many of them. They should intervene before a person has a chance to get too large a taste of the criminal lifestyle.

Still, I must applaud incoming Mayor Sheila Dixon and States Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy for at least trying to move away from the zero-tolerance policing strategies that have caused the wrongful and negligent arrests of so many of our innocent citizens.

Hey, its a start.


In the News 1/11/07

While most of Maryland is stocking up on purple face paint and 12-packs of Natty Boh in anticipation of Saturdays Ravens/Colts playoff contest, there are some interesting things happening for the Baltimore Orioles.

Cal Ripken, recent Hall of Fame inductee, has declared his interest in buying the Orioles franchise from Peter Angelos. This is great news for Orioles fans, should Angelos really decide to sell the team. The Orioles have suffered from poor ownership for years. Ownership that has refused to do what is necessary to win, be it spending more cash on quality players or improving the farm system. Ripken has been doing his thing with the Ironbirds, and I would love to see him try his hand with the Orioles.


Martin O'Malley will officially leave Baltimore for Annapolis next week. He leaves the city in better shape than when he became Mayor, seven years ago.
Still, by almost any objective measure, the city has improved under O'Malley's watch in a number of key areas, from homicides to health to housing prices - sometimes marginally, sometimes markedly... And where it has not improved in absolute terms, such as population growth, the rate of decline has slowed.

His legacy includes CitiStat and the 311 call center, Project 5000 for systematically taking control of vacant properties, and the notion of building on strength in community development.

He also demonstrated that small targeted investments, in facilities that include playgrounds and supermarkets, can pay big dividends.

And he pushed big-ticket redevelopment projects, such as the East Baltimore biotech park and the west-side initiative that dominated yesterday's Board of Estimates meeting.
Democrats in Maryland are looking forward to big things from O'Malley. The list of accomplishments above seems a little bare. Lets hope the Governor can deliver more for Maryland, including Baltimore City, once he reaches Annapolis.

UPDATE: Bruce Godfrey at Crablaw thinks the O'Malley needs to get to work on choosing his cabinet. I am inclined to agree. Of course, there is always time to kick a field goal or two.

Incoming Mayor Sheila Dixon has been cleared in an ethics inquiry.


And finally, Baltimore City has started the year off with a "bang". It turns out that the suspect in the recent murder of Police Officer Troy Lamont Chesley Sr. had a rather long criminal record, a record that should have put him behind bars long before he had a chance to commit such a heinous crime.
When the future of Brandon Grimes was in the hands of Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock nearly two years ago, he had two previous criminal convictions - both for nonviolent offenses - on his record. And the new charges before the judge were also for nonviolent offenses committed while he was on probation.

So Murdock - like other city judges routinely dealing with towering caseloads - accepted a guilty plea from Grimes for theft and multiple probation violations, giving him four concurrent six-month prison sentences.

But under a previously suspended sentence for an earlier conviction, Murdock could have put him away for as long as 10 years. Now Grimes stands accused of killing an off-duty city police officer this week in a botched robbery.
As the Judge says in the article, he doesn't have a crystal ball that tells him which offenders will be violent and which will not. Instead, Judges in the city must walk a fine line.
Judge John M. Glynn, chairman of the coordinating council and chief of the Circuit Court's criminal docket, said at the meeting that "we have to acknowledge the systemic failures."

In an interview after the meeting, Glynn said that the city Circuit Court system deals with about 10,000 felony cases a year but has the capacity to hold only about 500 jury trials.
This highlights the difficulty faced by police and judges in Baltimore City. There is just too much crime. They lack the resources and space to prosecute and jail offenders of all stripes.
...Murdock's action in Grimes' case in 2005 - where the penalties for a probation violation and a new offense are combined when a defendant agrees to plead guilty - has become common in a court system struggling to respond to the "huge number of crimes we have in the city of Baltimore."
Now, Grimes in no angel, and his criminal record speaks to this fact.
As an adult, Grimes was arrested about 17 times, almost entirely in Baltimore, according to law enforcement records. His charges over a 3 1/2 -year period included: drug possession; stolen auto; destruction of property; burglary; theft; traffic violations; false statement to police; assault and reckless endangerment, court records show.
So why wasn't Mr. Grimes in jail. Well, no one seems to really know. The "system" is simply "broken". I would argue that the system isn't broken, but instead is overburdened with non-violent offenders, and some number of them must have committed drug crimes. Eliminate those "crimes" by legalizing drugs, and I expect that the "huge number of crimes" will go down quickly.

Sadly, the solution will either be inaction or escalation, most likely the latter. Build more prisons, build a larger court, hire more police. If the system is so horribly broken, I think all options need to be put on the table as possible solutions.


Murder Maps

My friend and ex-roommate Chris has taken it upon himself to map out the murders that occur in Maryland and DC. His web-page is a clearinghouse of murder information and is updated daily. If you are ever curious about who got killed in the Free State today, you will find the answer there.

And just in case I don't have a chance to post again this week let me clarify two things:

1. Cal Ripken is awesome.
2. Ravens over Colts, 24-17


The Death Penalty Hits a 30 Year Low

And for good reason:
"The fact is they've gotten a lot of the wrong guys," said Deborah Fleischaker, director of the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project.

It shouldn't take too much thinking to realize why. Human error casts it's shadow over all of our actions

Since the death penalty was reinstated, 123 people have been freed from death row after significant questions were raised about their convictions - 14 of them through DNA testing, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

There are other reasons that capital punishment is going the way of the dinosaur:

Among the many causes given by prosecutors, lawyers and death penalty critics: the passage of more state laws that allow juries to impose life without parole; an overall drop in violent crime; and a reluctance among some authorities to pursue the death penalty because of the high costs of prosecuting a capital case.

So lets see. The death penalty is expensive. The death penalty is frequently misapplied. A better and more severe (in my opinion) punishment is available in life without parole.

There should be no question in the minds of Maryland legislators as they are faced with the prospect of writing new regulations for lethal injections in the state. They should (and most likely will) filibuster and refuse to codify murder, effectively reinstating the moratorium on the death penalty in Maryland.