Saturday, May 23, 2015

Baltimore is Showing America the Consequences of a Neutered Police Force

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is quoted as saying the states are the laboratories of democracy. His actual words are close: “The states … serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Baltimore, Maryland is experimenting with its police, putting at risk the health and safety of its people, but fortunately not those of the rest of America or even Maryland. The question is: “Can a neutered police department maintain the peace?” We know the answer from Cincinnati and New York City (see My May 10 blog, “Baltimore Has An Impending Crime wave), but in the words of Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The role of the police is to preserve the peace. They are called upon to use force during crimes and in arresting suspects, often having to make split second decisions on the use of force. The use of force will sometimes result in deaths or injuries. Abuses occur. Mistakes are inevitable. Decisions to arrest or use force based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause will not always be correct. The decisions are judged with hindsight. The best test of foreseeability is hindsight. We know that mistakes, even fatal mistakes, occur in the line of duty. Critics of the police make these accusations: Excessive police force is provocative and causes violence White police officers like to shoot young Blacks Police single out blacks A major problem in the inner cities is the lack of adult black males because they are excessively imprisoned. Excessive force is the norm Police forces are overly militarized Police intimidate Police alienate These accusations and beliefs are echoed by the Justice Department, which is actively investigating several police departments, including Baltimore and Ferguson. The solution to reduce violence in Black communities therefore is to reduce the police presence in the otherwise high crime, minority areas. These efforts are aided by the Baltimore political establishment. District Attorneys (States Attorney in Maryland) usually have the backs of police officers, absent egregious conduct. Prosecutors also realize juries are hesitant to convict police officers for their decisions to arrest and their proper or improper use of force. That is not currently the case in Baltimore. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, President Obama, and even Police Commissioner Anthony Batts threw the police under the bus during and after the riots after the death of Freddie Gray. State’s Attorney Mosby ordered the arrest of six police officers immediately after receiving the Coroner’s Report. The driver of the police van was charged with second degree “depraved heart” homicide. She charged three with false imprisonment because she said they had no probable cause to arrest Mr. Gray because his knife was not illegal. She was extensively criticized for over-charging the six officers. The police claimed the knife was illegal under Baltimore law. Their defense attorneys demanded to examine the knife. A grand jury formally issued indictments last Thursday against the officers. No mention was made of the knife. The false imprisonment claims were dropped, replaced by “reckless endangerment.” The Baltimore Police also know the United States Justice Department, which is biased against police, is micro-inspecting all of them, eager to issue more indictments. The Baltimore Police know no one has their backs and that they could be prosecuted for almost any error in judgment. They were ordered to stand down during the riots. 168 officers were injured during the riots. Now they are voluntarily standing down rather than risk more indictments: “heads down, by the book” policing. Look straight ahead; they can’t arrest for what they don’t see. Local residents harass them while they conduct basic police work. They are demoralized, dispirited, disgraced, scared, shell-shocked, embarrassed, and humiliated. Their superiors, the federal government and the media have neutered them. If they over-policed previously, they are now under-policing. The result is foreseeable. Arrests have dropped while violent crime has soared. A crime wave is sweeting the city, with the possible exception on the Inner Harbor tourist attraction. Crime was already bad in Baltimore. The FBI ranked Baltimore fifth in 2013 for homicide rates among large cities, trailing only Detroit, New Orleans, Newark, and St. Louis. Baltimore experienced 235 murders in 2013. Baltimore had the seventh highest violent crime rate. Baltimore police made 1,453 arrests in the three weeks after the Freddie Gray death, down 40% from 2013 and 2014. The arrest number is actually lower, since the 1,453 includes arrests during the riots. Baltimore homicides are up 40% in the period after Mr. Gray’s death and non-fatal shootings jumped 60%. 34 homicides were committed in the 30 days after Freddie Gray’s death. 19 shooting victims alone last Tuesday and Wednesday. 96 homicides were committed from January 1, 2015 to May 21, 2015, compared to 235 in all of 2013. The Baltimore Police have committed none of the shootings.. The three square mile Western District, which includes the neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested, has 22 killings this year, compared to a total of 21 all last year. 19 homicides and 51 shootings were in the Western District in the 30 days after the tragic death of Mr. Gray. The Western District is now today’s Wild West. Gene Ryan, who heads the Baltimore police union, says a “criminal element” has taken advantage of the police absence. The tragic lesson from the police absence in Baltimore is that a vacuum is created in a high crime city. Nature abhors a vacuum. Gangs, thugs, petty criminals have filled the vacuum. All highly foreseeable! ----------------------------------/--- Update: 29 shootings, 9 dead over Memorial Day Weekend

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