Jessamy raises number of police court no-shows

Problem called worse than earlier reported

January 09, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's top prosecutor said yesterday the problem of police officers not showing up for trials -- and jeopardizing cases -- is even greater than she reported earlier this week.

But police again said the prosecutors' data do not tell the real story.

"The questions should be, `Why did they fail to appear?'" said Ragina C. Averella, a spokeswoman for Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris. "Did they receive the summons? Did they receive it prior to the court date? Were they on vacation? Sick? There could be any host of reasons."

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy reported that of 14,395 District Court cases that prosecutors dropped or shelved from January to November last year, 25 percent were a result of police officers missing trials.

The day before, Jessamy released data showing the number of no-show officers in District and Circuit Court cases more than doubled last year -- from 1,062 in 2000 to 2,182 in 2001.

"The numbers we have are a minimum," Jessamy said yesterday at a press conference. "They could be double or triple that."

The figures released yesterday were calculated by Assistant State's Attorney Page Croyder, chief of the central booking division, who kept statistics by examining the outcomes of each case. Jessamy's earlier numbers are based on prosecutors filling out a form indicating the officer did not show up, a procedure prosecutors don't always follow.

The number of dropped and shelved cases are a small portion of the 66,000 total cases prosecutors filed from July 2000 through June last year in District Court. Circuit Court figures were not available.

Jessamy said yesterday that officers are critical to criminal cases because their testimony is often the strongest evidence that prosecutors have.

The data released by both Jessamy and Croyder does not specify which types of cases the officers failed to show up for, or whether they were felonies or misdemeanors.

Jessamy presented a few cases yesterday that were dropped because of police no-shows.

One suspect was facing 13 counts of possession of crack cocaine. Another, who had a parole violation and four convictions on drug charges, was facing trial on drug charges. A third, also convicted four times on drug charges, was charged with carrying a concealed handgun.

"Police not showing up for trials is hindering prosecutors' efforts to reduce crime in Baltimore City," Jessamy said.

Police officials say there are a variety of reasons officers miss court dates, including being told by prosecutors they're not needed or told by a supervisor not to appear.

An officer is fined $50 by the department for the first missed court appearance. On further occasions, he or she can be fined again or be suspended.

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