City in Central Booking lawsuit

Judge OKs `friend of the court,' suggests arrests add to problem


A Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that the city can share its "concerns and recommendations" in a lawsuit over delays at the Central Booking and Intake Center, even as he suggested that the Police Department's arrest policies may contribute to the problem.

Judge John M. Glynn allowed the city to present its side in the case as a "friend of the court," but he delayed ruling on whether to include it as a plaintiff in the suit filed by the public defender's office against the state-run jail. About 100,000 people arrested by city police and other agencies are processed, fingerprinted and, in most cases, criminally charged at Central Booking each year.

The city has tried to join the lawsuit against the state because it blames Central Booking officials for mismanaging the facility and hampering police efforts to reduce crime.

In his opinion, Glynn wrote that the city Police Department and the state-run booking center "may well not share the same goals, or see the need to account for the impact of their policy decisions on each other.

"The city is in effect free to respond to the demand of the citizenry to arrest in great numbers its least productive, most annoying citizens, and ignore whether those arrests lead to overcrowding, delays in booking or damage the credibility of the justice system as a whole," Glynn wrote.

A police spokesman declined to comment.

In the lawsuit filed in April, the public defenders claimed that scores of arrestees were not being presented before a court commissioner within 24 hours at Central Booking. The facility had drawn intense scrutiny earlier this year for crowded conditions and the brutal beating death of an inmate, Raymond K. Smoot, allegedly by three corrections officers.

Glynn had issued a temporary restraining order that forced the state to release suspects who did not see a commissioner within 24 hours of arrest. At least 80 people were released from Central Booking without being charged because of excessive delays in the spring and early summer.

In his order yesterday, Glynn acknowledged that the arrest and release of suspects has an impact on the Police Department's crime-fighting efforts, and he applauded the city's recommendations, noting that "it should be given a voice in this case."

Public safety officials have recently said that they have implemented changes in recent months that have helped them better manage the jail's population and avoid releasing people because they violated the 24-hour rule.

City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler said it is the city's position that the court has the authority to grant "systemic remedies" to fix problems with delays and crowding at Central Booking, "beyond the remedy of releasing the person if they are not processed within 24 hours."

Regarding Glynn's comments about the Police Department, Tyler said: "The job of the police is to arrest people as to whom police believe there is probable cause. It is not the police's job to act as judge, jury or jailer.

"Just as we should not have some quota for arrests, we should not have a maximum number of arrests," Tyler said. "That is not the way to make a safer city."

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which operates Central Booking, said the agency recognizes that the city Police Department is an important part of Baltimore's pretrial system.

"There are a number of agencies which have a key role in this, and all must work together for the system to function as smoothly as possible," Vernarelli said.

Officials at the Office of the Public Defender could not be reached for comment last night.

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