Another example of the crisis in blue

February 24, 1994

It's a toss-up as to what was more disturbing: the revelations in David Simon's recent series in The Evening Sun that the Baltimore police department mismanaged the too few resources it has to apprehend criminals, or the indication from columns by Michael Olesker last week that some police can't tell the good guys from the bad.

The Simon series, "Crisis in Blue," detailed how political concerns dictated police priorities in recent years; how crimes against the average Joe received no follow-up, unless that average Joe was dead.

The Olesker columns, about a Harford County teacher who was roughed up by police for a suspected minor crime, verified that same theme in a different -- and maybe more horrifying -- way.

Teacher Benjamin Orlando, 47, was arrested on a charge of scalping tickets outside an Orioles game in May 1992 by police officers Christopher Cooper and Albert Marcus. In fact, Mr. Orlando sold the tickets he could not use at face value, something many of us have done. What was deplorable was not the fact that he was arrested, but how he was arrested. The officers cursed him, slammed his head on a van roof and let the handcuffs bite into his wrists to the point where the use of his hands has been impaired. Mr. Orlando was dumped in the Southern District lockup -- "Have a great night on the city," Officer Cooper bid him adieu -- and another inmate urinated and spat into his cell.

A Circuit Court jury last week awarded Mr. Orlando $520,000 for the false arrest and imprisonment. The city long ago dropped the scalping charges. As for the two officers involved, no punishment was ever meted out. In fact, Albert Marcus, who served a brief penalty for another case of excessive force in 1985, and who goes by the nickname "Mad Dog," was promoted to homicide detective last year. Even though Mr. Orlando's attorney sent a letter of complaint to the department a month after the incident, and even though the civil suit commenced a year ago, the police never investigated the case themselves -- at least not until Mr. Olesker's columns this week brought this abomination to the public's attention.

Credit new Commissioner Thomas Frazier with immediately calling for an in-house inquiry. The outcome of that process and the chief's subsequent action will help to determine the level of confidence that city residents are willing to reinvest in their police.

A reputation for excessive force has not dogged this department, not to the extent of some other big city forces, at least; of course, many people who complain of brutality would not carry the credibility of a teacher. The acknowledgment of the difficult job police have in Baltimore is in no way a defense for the mistreatment of people accused of a crime.

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