Arrests set record in August, reflecting aggressive police strategies

Baltimore & Region

October 13, 2005|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTER

The city Police Department's aggressive strategies led to a record number of arrests in August, surpassing the previous record set in July, according to figures released yesterday by the city state's attorney's office.

Prosecutors reviewed 8,964 arrests in August, nearly 1,300 more than in the preceding month, and declined to prosecute 2,961 cases, about 33 percent, the figures showed. Arrests - most of them made by city police and some by other law enforcement agencies - decreased last month.

The department's tough policy has spurred criticism from some civil rights groups, which say it results in the jailing of a few thousand people each month for relatively minor offenses, though many are never charged.

Last month, a city circuit judge suggested that the department's arrest policies might have contributed to recent crowding at the state-run Central Booking and Intake Center in Baltimore, where suspects are processed.

The mayor's office and other city leaders have said the police are responding to concerns from residents who want police to crack down on crime. A police spokesman said arrests increased because the department undertook several enforcement initiatives to address "spikes" in crime trends over the summer.

"Efforts in July and August led to a significantly better September," said Matt Jablow, a police spokesman. "And we're continuing the trend in October."

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy disclosed the unaudited arrest figures yesterday at a monthly meeting of criminal justice, law enforcement and city officials.

Last month, the number of arrests that prosecutors reviewed dropped to 6,787, about 2,200 fewer than in August, Jessamy said. Prosecutors declined to press charges in 2,344 cases, about 35 percent, the figures showed.

Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said later that the department plans to review recent cases that prosecutors declined to pursue "for our training purposes."

"We're doing that for ourselves," said Hamm, who has said previously that the department was aware that officers needed additional training in making arrests and writing charging documents.

A substantial number of arrests each month involve misdemeanors such as loitering or disorderly conduct, which prosecutors sometimes decline to pursue because they determine that they could not prove the case in court.

The department's loitering arrests have been sharply criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which has accused the police of improperly enforcing loitering laws.

In one-quarter to one-third of the cases that don't result in charges each month, prosecutors determined that prosecution was not necessary because the arrest abated the alleged criminal activity. Typically, the remainder don't result in charges because prosecutors are unsure whether the cases could be successfully prosecuted.

Jessamy said her office had not compiled figures showing how many cases in August and September were considered "abated by arrest" and how many were deemed insufficient to be pursued in court. Her office has been tracking the number of arrests reviewed and declined by prosecutors since early 2002.

Jablow said the city had recorded 210 homicides this year as of yesterday, down from 228 at the corresponding time last year. Violent crime is down 7 percent this year, he said.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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