Police arrest records probed

ACLU investigates cases where no charges placed

Public Information Act request

May 09, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched an investigation into the arrest practices of Baltimore police, apparently concerned about the large number of people who are arrested but not charged with crimes.

The ACLU of Maryland filed a Maryland Public Information Act request with state officials seeking detailed records and databases about cases in which people were arrested but not charged.

ACLU lawyer David R. Rocah, who filed the letter April 17, declined to comment yesterday.

Last year, prosecutors declined to bring charges in 15,798 arrests, or 26 percent of the 60,412 cases they reviewed, the vast majority brought by Baltimore police.

This year, police have increased arrests, and prosecutors are declining to charge in 24 percent of cases.

ACLU lawyers expressed concern this year that police are violating people's rights by arresting them while knowing that charges will never be brought.

"Essentially, we have, in reality, a police officer being not only the cop but also the judge and jury and sentencing a person to central booking," ACLU lawyer Dwight Sullivan told The Sun in January for an article about charging and arrest practices.

Yesterday, police and prosecutors declined to comment or could not be reached for comment concerning the ACLU's action.

Prosecutors have said that two-thirds of the cases they drop are dropped on the day of arrest because they cannot be proved in court.

In other cases, the arrests took care of the petty problem - such as urinating in public - and prosecutors did not find it worthy.

Police officials have stressed that the threshold for arrests is much lower than what is required to win a case in court.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris has said that prosecutors should not drop so many cases and should instead help officers build better ones.

"We are not blameless," Norris said. "But I'd like to see a middle ground here."

Prosecutors, who took the charging function away from police in July 2000, have refused to discuss the reason they decline to bring charges in one out of four arrests.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said in January that "there is a difference between policing and prosecution."

Prosecutors review only on-view arrests - those for crimes committed in the presence of police or those that are quickly solved.

Police charge thousands of other people every year with arrest warrants obtained from District Court commissioners, arrests that are not reviewed by prosecutors until trial.

All arrests, including those not reviewed by prosecutors, appear to have increased substantially during the first three months of the year.

Last year, all police agencies, including housing and school police, averaged 6,784 arrests a month.

This year, they are averaging 7,832, a 15 percent increase.

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