Arrest strategies to be discussed

State legislators from city will hold a public hearing in January to address concerns about police

Baltimore & Region

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

Baltimore's state legislators are planning to hold a public hearing in early January to discuss the city Police Department's arrest strategies, which have been assailed by critics who say the police are arresting too many people in cases that never result in criminal charges.

Prosecutors at the Central Booking and Intake Center, where arrestees are processed, dealt with high caseloads over the summer, peaking in August with 8,964 cases, according to figures from the city state's attorney's office. But prosecutors declined to prosecute about a third of those arrests - a trend that's held steady for much of the year.

"The numbers speak for themselves," said Del. Salima S. Marriott, a Democrat and chairwoman of the city House delegation who arranged the Jan. 4 hearing at the War Memorial Building. "This is an issue that we need to bring to the people of Baltimore. They shouldn't have to come to Annapolis to discuss an issue that impacts on their lives."

The department has pursued aggressive street-level strategies to keep the homicide rate below last year's level and reduce violent crime. The strategies range from stopping and frisking people suspected of possessing guns to disrupting drug corners by arresting dealers on loitering charges.

"We intend to remain the pro-active Police Department that we've been the last few years," said Matt Jablow, a police spokesman. "It's what the people of this city ask of us, and it's that approach that has led to significant declines in crime in Baltimore."

But Jablow said the department would "support any initiative aimed at making the city safer and improving the efficiency of the criminal justice system."

The hearing comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of the Police Department's strategies. Other city delegates, such as Jill P. Carter, and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have expressed concerns about arrest policies. A Circuit Court judge assigned a grand jury in September to review and write a report on the department's relationship with the community.

The statistics for the arrests and declinations involve only "on-view" arrests by officers, not cases where police obtained warrants. In such cases, an officer typically sees a person commit a crime, makes an arrest and brings the person to Central Booking.

In more than a quarter of declined cases, prosecutors determined that prosecution was not necessary because the crime was "abated by arrest" - meaning it had been resolved by taking the suspect into custody, and he could be freed before a court hearing.

The remainder are not pursued because prosecutors find they cannot prove the charges in court.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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