Raising police standardMartin O'Malley became the...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

October 23, 1999

Raising police standard

Martin O'Malley became the Democratic candidate for mayor of Baltimore on the strength of his promise of reform, especially in the area of public safety.

When he announced his candidacy in June, Mr. O'Malley called for "quality of life" policing, but carefully noted that this does not mean indiscriminate arrest.

After a young man was killed by police officers during a recent arrest scuffle, however, Mr. O'Malley's opponents quickly accused him of endorsing the sort of "zero-tolerance" policy that in other cities has reduced murder rates, but increased police harassment.

But nowhere has Mr. O'Malley suggested that he expects officers to act in a knee-jerk fashion and leave their judgment at home when they report for duty.

Such a policy would be as abhorrent as the Baltimore County school policy against concealed weapons that resulted in an honors student's expulsion after she forgot to leave her mace home.

But sometimes the front-line members of the criminal justice system are best positioned to protect the spirit of the law.

What O'Malley is really seeking, and the message that resonated throughout our city during the primary election, is higher standards for city government.

He rightly asks, for instance, why our government has tolerated open-air drug markets in impoverished neighborhoods when such activity would be unimaginable in Guilford or Roland Park.

This "blind-eye" behavior on the part of the Schmoke administration has grated against the standards of justice and fairness held by Mr. O'Malley and many Baltimore citizens.

At some point in our recent history those who chose to stay in Baltimore stopped demanding that our city government implement its mandate to keep us safe, educate our children and keep the city clean and began accepting the sorry state of city services.

The most telling symptom of this acceptance was the creation of "special-benefits districts," where residents and businesses voluntarily pay additional property taxes to purchase a modicum of safety and cleanliness.

The Schmoke administration supported creation of these districts, and pretended that they were not shaming signs of failure.

Mr. O'Malley will ask more from the city and citizens alike. He will ask more from us because he believes we can do better.

Quality of life policing or, perhaps, "equitable protection policing," is but one part of the strategy Mr. O'Malley will pursue.

Jane Shipley, Baltimore

For better law enforcement

We are in the midst of an important debate about how best to police Baltimore. This is well and good. What is not being talked about is why so much current police work seems so ineffective.

What the city's police, and many others, have never come to grips with is that their effectiveness is based on citizens' trust in their integrity and fairness.

There is always talk that Baltimore juries side with criminals rather than the police. When people stop believing in the honesty of police they will consistently give the benefit of any doubt whatsoever to the accused.

All of us are prone to place the responsibility for failure in others. The police are no different.

But until they realize that every person they push around or abuse, with or without an arrest, is either tomorrow's juror or a close relative of a juror, they can expect continued failure to convict criminals.

Many defense attorneys will privately admit that their success is as often as not a result of distrust of police, rather than their lawyerly skills.

No matter how good reforms of the criminal justice may be, without respect for the integrity of the police we'll never have a criminal justice system that works to our general satisfaction.

I am impressed that Martin O'Malley talks openly of police corruption.

What we need next is a discussion of their civility and fairness.

Wally Orlinsky, Baltimore

The writer is a former president of the Baltimore City Council.

On `martyrdom' and lost potential

Is anyone else tired of hearing about Larry Hubbard, the drug-dealing miscreant, who has been proclaimed a martyr by some and compared to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

If I were an African-American, I'd be insulted that Larry Hubbard was mentioned in the same sentence as Dr. King's.

We now have at least seven groups investigating a man who was shot because he refused to let go of a police officer's weapon.

Larry Hubbard chose a life of crime, he chose to fight police officers and he chose not to put the gun down.

The police officer responded by defending himself and his partner. If I were an officer in a similar situation, I would have done the same.

If Mr. Hubbard had listened to the officers, he'd be alive today.

Now, Johnnie Cochran is becoming involved in a possible civil suit against the officers.

Mr. Cochran should remember: this time the crime doesn't fit, so you must acquit.

Ginny Phillips, Baltimore

Once again we read about hundreds of mourners grieving the loss of a young man's life in Baltimore ("At funeral, man hailed as a martyr," Oct. 14).

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