Police to push more paper Issuing citations: Good alternative to misdemeanor arrests that take officers off the street.

September 07, 1996

THE ONLY THING wrong with Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier's decision to have officers issue citations for nuisance crimes was his failure to coordinate the policy change with others in the criminal justice team. Prosecution procedures must be established or citations will become worthless pieces of paper. There can be no doubt that anyone who fails to follow a citation's direction will be arrested and that a record of their crime, including witnesses to it, is being kept for a court hearing.

Mr. Frazier's decision caught State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy by surprise. She had discussed with police officials expanding an officer's ability to issue citations, but they didn't tell her the policy is being implemented. This slight can be corrected. Ms. Jessamy is setting up a meeting with the chief and District Court Administrative Judge Mary Ellen T. Rinehardt to spell out a protocol for officers to follow to make sure the new citation policy works.

Baltimore wants to do better than New York, where more than half the people who receive citations for minor crimes such as loitering, soliciting and drinking in public never show up to answer the charge. It is an added deterrent to neighborhood crime for officers to be able to cite these people, rather than continue to ignore them because of the hours it would take to book them. But the greater deterrent would be ensuring that all such charges are heard by a court official who can mete out punishment.

A special court may be needed. Or perhaps misdemeanor citations can be handled in traffic court during slack periods. The City Council should be included in these discussions, particularly Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley, who has some creative ideas on how to reduce crime. The city needs greater cooperation among all officials involved in law enforcement. They must talk to each other. Their collaboration could produce a comprehensive assessment of Baltimore's criminal justice system that might lead to other needed innovations to make it better.

Pub Date: 9/07/96

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