The Baltimore City Council called for an "emergency briefing" today with acting Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris over recent reports of harassment, racial profiling and discourteous behavior in police stops.
West Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. introduced a resolution yesterday, setting the council hearing for 5: 30 p.m. today in council chambers. Mitchell's meeting was prompted by constituents' complaints and a recent story in The Sun in which West Baltimore residents said they've seen a rise in unwarranted police stops, Mitchell said.
The summoning of Norris, the former New York deputy commissioner who was named Baltimore's acting commissioner last week after Ronald L. Daniel resigned, is the latest reaction to concern about Baltimore's new crime-fighting strategy.
While downplaying rhetoric about the "zero-tolerance" approach, Mayor Martin O'Malley and Norris back its foundation. The tactic has helped cities such as New York and New Orleans drastically reduce their homicide rates by mapping city crime on computers, increasing the apprehension of fugitives and targeting police patrols to problem areas.
Residents worry, however, that police officers will target law-abiding African-Americans living in poor neighborhoods, council members said.
"It's the only concern for most people," said Anthony McCarthy, chief of staff for Council President Sheila Dixon. "They're saying, `We're concerned about black kids in Baltimore.' "
Concerns over the new plan were heightened during the weekend by a report in The Sun detailing crime reduction around the Avenue Market in West Baltimore. Since January, police have stepped up patrols in a 20-block area there to eradicate open-air drug dealing. Crime is down 23 percent, and drug-related calls have been cut by a third in the neighborhood.
Some residents have lauded the city for the improvement, but others -- including a city police officer -- complained of aggressive tactics by new undercover squads. CENTAC, a plainclothes undercover unit created in January, is making arrests for everything from panhandling to loitering. Youths in the region complain that they are often stopped without just cause by officers. Some claim officers taunt residents.
"There are a few people who feel that this new unit coming around is being disrespectful," Mitchell said.
In The Sun article, Norris expressed dismay over allegations of verbal intimidation by police officers and vowed to initiate departmentwide training and oversight procedures on stops.
Dixon said yesterday that she hopes to set up a hot line to handle reports of racial profiling, harassment or intimidation by police.
Referring to reports of young African-Americans stopped and questioned by police for no reason, Dixon said, "I don't want to see that. The bottom line is that we are a city that is 65 percent African-American and profiling exists."
O'Malley is expected to submit Norris' name as commissioner to the City Council on Monday. Several council members said yesterday that the confirmation will not happen without more discussions about the crime-fighting strategy.
Before last night's council meeting, a dozen members of the All People's Congress, led by activist Bill Gooden, protested outside City Hall over Norris' appointment and the zero-tolerance strategy.
Dixon set public forums for 7 p.m. April 26 at City College, 3220 The Alameda, and April 27 at Frederick Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway.
"This is not a done deal," Dixon said of Norris' nomination. "And it is unfair to put it out there as a done deal."