Duncan criticizes city arrests

Candidate accuses gubernatorial opponent O'Malley of artificially boosting statistics

June 17, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

Bringing one of the city's most pressing criminal justice issues into this year's gubernatorial campaign, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan became the latest person to criticize Mayor Martin O'Malley over allegations of widespread false arrests by the city Police Department.

Duncan's comments followed a lawsuit, filed Thursday by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging that thousands of people are arrested and held for hours without being charged. Duncan accused the O'Malley administration yesterday of artificially boosting arrest statistics to give the impression he is tough on crime.

"It's becoming all too clear that this is the latest example of politics trumping policy with the mayor," Duncan said at a news conference at his new Baltimore headquarters in Charles Village. "The Police Department should not be used as a political tool for this campaign."

Duncan's attack is the most recent development in a long-simmering debate over arrests made by the Baltimore Police Department that the state's attorney's office declines to prosecute -- an issue that has recently reappeared in a City Council resolution calling for an investigation into the possible use of arrest quotas.

Duncan and O'Malley are seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in this year's Sept. 12 primary.

Duncan's running mate, former Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, said the dimensions of the problem have grown significantly since he ran the prosecutor's office. Simms said solutions could include offering more police training and creating a community court for misdemeanors.

"When arrests occur that do not result in prosecution, it ... represents a significant misuse of public and police resources," Simms said.

The two were joined by Del. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, who has called for a federal investigation into Police Department practices.

O'Malley's campaign swung back yesterday, noting a 12.2 percent increase in crime within Montgomery County in the first quarter of this year, reported this week by Montgomery County police, as well as a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into racial profiling by the county Police Department that led to new requirements for officers making traffic stops.

"That's really rich that the Montgomery County executive would try to lecture the Baltimore Police Department when he is subject to a consent decree on racial profiling," said O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese. "This is just another attempt to distract from Montgomery County's soaring crime rate under Doug Duncan."

David Weaver, a spokesman with the Duncan campaign, said the county entered into a voluntary agreement to track traffic stops -- not a court-ordered consent decree -- and said the terms of the arrangement were lifted last year.

Though violent crime was down in Baltimore last year, it is still significantly higher than in Montgomery County. What's more, Duncan has repeatedly criticized the O'Malley administration's collection of crime data.

City officials say prosecutors weigh many factors when handling arrests. A prosecutor may decide, for instance, that time served in Central Booking is appropriate punishment -- a determination that was made in about a third of the 3,110 arrests not prosecuted in the first quarter of 2006.

The other two-thirds, according to data provided by the city state's attorney's office, were because prosecutors believed they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred.

Baltimore bucked a national trend in large cities last year with a 2.5 percent drop in homicides and an overall 3.6 percent drop in violent crime, according to the preliminary annual uniform crime report data released this week by the FBI.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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