O'Malley again defends zero tolerance

Pledges to monitor cases of brutality, corruption

October 21, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Democratic mayoral nominee Martin O'Malley pledged yesterday "open, honest and public" investigations into police brutality and corruption if he is elected.

O'Malley made the promise after again being questioned about his plans to implement a zero-tolerance policing strategy. If elected on Nov. 2, O'Malley has vowed to import the crime-fighting plan that has helped several U.S. cities, including New York and New Orleans, dramatically reduce violent crime.

Critics, including O'Malley's Republican challenger, David F. Tufaro, worry that requiring officers to get out of their cars to enforce all violations will result in a rise of brutality complaints, particularly from minorities.

About 500 students and faculty members at the Friends School of Baltimore questioned O'Malley and Tufaro at a school assembly yesterday. But it was O'Malley's crime-fighting plans that grabbed the attention of Friends students such as Fern-Anita Stalling.

The African-American senior asked O'Malley how black males in the city would be affected by his policing plans. O'Malley explained the strategy as enforcing all crime to catch repeat offenders before they commit more violent crime.

O'Malley tried to assure Stalling and the student assembly that police misconduct is not heightened by zero tolerance but must be looked upon as a separate issue.

"There is a problem in every police department in America with brutality," O'Malley said. "The question isn't whether it exists, the question is whether you're going to do something about it."

O'Malley pledged to create a tough internal affairs division in the Police Department made up of model officers who will "police the police." In a follow-up session with students, O'Malley said he would be personally involved in police misconduct investigations.

O'Malley said he -- not the Police Department -- would appoint the attorney who leads the department's legal affairs team investigating. O'Malley said he would also require that every complaint of police misconduct, brutality or corruption be sent to him for review.

"We're going to have zero tolerance for police misconduct," he said.

Tufaro was comfortable before the school assembly, which included his two daughters, Jennifer and Christina. He continued his opposition to zero-tolerance strategy, noting that 56 percent of all African-American males in Baltimore between the ages of 18 and 34 face criminal charges, are on probation or are in jail. Tufaro contends that minorities would be most affected by the new policing strategy.

"We need a policing practice that will not create a sense of fear," Tufaro said.

Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

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