Arrests in city soared in July

Number highest since '02, but 37% of cases dismissed

September 29, 2005|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore police arrested more people in July than in any other month since early 2002, but prosecutors threw out more cases that month than any other during the same period because they were deemed legally insufficient, according to statistics compiled by the city state's attorney's office.

The latest figures available show that prosecutors reviewed 7,697 cases in July at the Central Booking and Intake Center but declined to file charges in 2,824 cases, or 37 percent.

Civic activists and some city leaders say the arrest and declination rates further support their claims that the Police Department's arrest policies are far too broad -- a view aired by critics at a meeting Monday of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Police officials and the mayor's office counter that the law enforcement efforts have reduced crime.

The July arrest-review statistics significantly topped June's figure of 6,477, which was the previous high since January 2002, when prosecutors began compiling the statistics. The figures include only cases in which officers observed an alleged crime and not those in which a judge signed a warrant for someone's arrest.

"Our job is to provide a legal review," said Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. "We determined that these cases were legally insufficient to proceed for a number of different reasons."

Burns said that most of the declined cases typically involve misdemeanors, such as loitering. The number of cases abated by a suspect's arrest was not immediately available yesterday, Burns said. Abatements are cases where prosecutors determine that the arrest itself constitutes punishment for the infraction.

Typically, such abatements comprise about one-quarter to more than one-third of the declined cases each month.

Del. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, said Mayor Martin O'Malley and the Police Department should be held accountable for what she characterized as a wave of "illegal arrests" each month.

"Prosecutors will err on the side of caution, and they will err on the side of police," Carter said. "But these [arrests] are so egregious and so unnecessary that prosecutors are saying, `We're not even going to bother.'"

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, said residents expect the police to be more active in their neighborhoods.

"We consistently hear at community hearings that our residents want our police officers to do more, not less," he said. "The mayor supports the efforts of our police officers to improve public safety throughout our city."

Police said the arrest numbers in July were higher because of several law enforcement initiatives that responded to an increase in crime during the month.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said yesterday that the "vast majority" of cases in question involved quality arrests.

"The people of Baltimore demand that we solve problems in their neighborhoods, and that's exactly what we're doing," Hamm said in a statement. "Every single category of crime is down this year. Having said that, we acknowledge that there are some training issues related to the proper writing of statements of charges by officers, which sometimes results in charges being dismissed. We are actively addressing those problems."

But critics say the policies have led to the unnecessary incarceration of large numbers of people for so-called quality-of-life offenses, such as loitering.

"Contrary to what Chief Hamm said, it's not just a problem in report writing," said David Rocah, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. "That doesn't explain these extraordinarily high numbers."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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