Booking suspects not a science Human factor: Plenty of blame for shortcomings at city's high-tech arrest facility.

November 27, 1996

PUBLIC OFFICIALS like to point fingers when something is wrong. Prison administrators, court officials and the police were supposed to combine talents at the new Central Booking and Intake Center to make the arrest of crime suspects a smoother, speedier process. They have, to a large extent. But the facility's shortcomings have gained it a sorry reputation for which all those involved in its operation must share blame.

Tired of hearing police claim they have to spend hours on end at Central Booking after making an arrest, Lamont W. Flanagan, state commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, had several surveys done. The conclusion: most officers are in and out of Central Booking in about 90 minutes. There are, however, exceptions. It has taken five hours or more to book some suspects.

Mr. Flanagan says extenuating circumstances during an arrest or the complexity of a particular case are the most likely reasons for such aberrations. But he also blames officers who take longer to log an arrest because they haven't learned to use the high-tech data processing entry system at Central Booking. He has suggested that the police assign supervisory sergeants to the facility who can assist officers, but that has not happened.

A bigger problem seems to occur after officers have done their paperwork and left Central Booking. That's when suspects may spend up to seven more hours waiting for a court commissioner to hear their case and determine whether they will be allowed to make bail. The District Court is hiring and training more commissioners, but there are not enough at Central Booking now to prevent some backlogs among the 70,000 arrests in Baltimore each year.

The $56 million booking center isn't a year old yet, and has only been serving all nine police districts since this summer. It still has kinks to be worked out, but some of them are simple. For example, Mr. Flanagan says they have finally developed a better system for commissioners to call for a new case, instead of sitting idle until someone notices they're free. Not so simple is the lack of cooperation and communication among the various criminal justice agencies that has delayed a more efficient operation of the booking center. All those responsible need to stop pointing fingers and join hands.

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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