Nuisance crimes to be cited Litterers, loiterers to receive citations on the spot

September 06, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Thousands of litterers, loiterers and shoplifters who have gone untouched by Baltimore City police will face prosecution beginning next week under a new policy that allows officers to issue criminal citations for nuisance crimes.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said yesterday that issuing on-the-spot citations is a move toward implementing a policy of zero tolerance for even the most trivial crimes.

For years Baltimore has had a citation system for about 15 misdemeanors but its use has not been encouraged. The new policy doubles the number of petty crimes that will be subject to citation.

Frazier said the new system keeps officers from being tied up in an arrest process that can take up to four hours to complete. But City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who was unaware of the pending policy yesterday, worried that the citations could clog the courtrooms.

The policy change comes after much public debate last month among city leaders over zero tolerance. City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and other council members criticized the mayor and Frazier, saying they were not doing enough to stem Baltimore's increasing homicide rate.

But Frazier said yesterday that his pending policy change has nothing to do with the recent criticism.

"This is not in response to anything," Frazier said.

He said yesterday that a criminal citation system has been under review by a commission he put together several months ago.

The seven-member commission compiled a list of about 15 new misdemeanors that warrant criminal citation, provided that the violator showed identification and has no outstanding warrants. The list includes scalpers, shoplifters, prostitution solicitors and curfew violators.

The earlier listing included such petty crimes as drinking in public, public urination or making loud disturbing noises.

The new procedure could mean trouble for thousands of lawbreakers.

"I don't think we are writing many citations now," Frazier said. "But once we expand the list, I suspect they will be widely used. I'd say in the thousands."

The news comes as a welcome surprise for Bell and 3rd district councilman Martin O'Malley, who organized a council delegation New York City last month to pressure Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Frazier to implement the same methods that resulted in that city's significant drop in crime.

Unlike most urban metropolitan areas, Baltimore has seen a rise in its homicide rate. According to the FBI's National Crime Index, in 1995 New York City had a 25 percent drop in murders. Homicides in Baltimore rose from 321 in 1994 to 325 in 1995, a 1 percent increase.

Overall, crime in New York and Baltimore declined in 1995.

"I'm delighted that the [Schmoke] administration and the police department are moving in the right direction," Bell said yesterday. But "it's not over yet. What we have been pressuring for is beginning to be adopted. I think it shows promise."

In implementing a citation system, Baltimore may have to grapple with overcoming an exceptionally high court no-show rate that has affected New York City and other urban centers under the same system.

In New York City, nearly 75 percent of people issued citations failed to show in court on their scheduled dates.

Jessamy worried that the increased numbers of people issued citations coupled with the possibility of a high no-show rate may be counterproductive.

"If these cases don't go to a special court, it could clog the system," Jessamy said. "The police department alone is not going to make this thing work; courts and prosecutors need to be included," in the discussions.

Frazier said he hopes to keep no-show rates low by making sure that anyone who is issued a citation is correctly identified. If a person fails to appear in court, a warrant will be issued for his or her arrest.

Misdemeanors

The 15 misdemeanor charges added to the criminal citation list are:

1. Malicious destruction of property.

2. Theft of less than $300.

3. Disorderly conduct.

4. Disturbing the peace.

5. Trespass, posted property.

6. Trespass, after notice by owner.

7. Refuse, to cast or place upon a public street.

8. Obstructing free passage on public street.

9. Loitering.

10. Open alcoholic beverage container in public.

11. Operating minibike or unlicensed motorcycle.

12. Curfew violations.

13. Resale of tickets at sporting events.

14. Solicitation of prostitute.

6* 15. Solicitation for illegal sex acts.

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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