Police actions draw complaints

Forum is held at West Baltimore church to raise issues with the city department

August 10, 2006|By NICOLE FULLER | NICOLE FULLER,SUN REPORTER

The Rev. Charles Neal and his wife, Dana Neal, recalled his arrest in May, when he spent 17 hours in Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center for driving with a suspended license - a charge he called bogus.

Another man spoke of "jump-out Tuesdays," when, he said, Baltimore police officers "jump out the car, two to three of them, and lock you up."

The Rev. Jeffrey Mitchell of First Greater Harvest Church said his son was driving members of the church choir home about a year and a half ago and was arrested after he was not allowed to retrieve his license and registration from the trunk of his car - which was towed and sold at auction.

Their stories were told yesterday during a town hall meeting at Mitchell's church in West Baltimore held to discuss what some describe as overzealous policing intended to increase arrests to fulfill a Police Department-issued quota - which police officials have vehemently denied.

In June, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and American Civil Liberties Union sued the city Police Department and state-run Central Booking, alleging a broad pattern of abuse in which they say thousands of people are routinely arrested and held for hours without being charged with a crime. Many have been arrested for nuisance offenses such as loitering and public urination - a tactic employed by police to decrease crime.

The forum was attended by several elected officials and political candidates, including Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., U.S. Senate hopeful Allan J. Lichtman, Del. Keith E. Haynes and state Senate candidates Kevin A. Brooks and Tara Andrews, all Democrats.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm, who organizers said was invited via "letter, calls and e-mail," did not attend.

"How in the world can we have a problem this big and the commissioner not be here?" said Mitchell, who organized the forum along with the Neals, of Dayspring Worship Center in Pikesville. "That's disrespectful. ... We have issues and gripes with him, and he's not here to give an account of it himself."

Officer Troy Harris, a police spokesman, said he could not confirm whether Hamm was invited, but he said, "The Baltimore City Police Department doesn't have a quota system. Our officers are given a lot of discretion when it comes to resolving problems."

Jessamy, who has sparred with Mayor Martin O'Malley over public safety issues, told the gathering of about 30 people that her office routinely declines to prosecute people arrested for minor crimes because of lack of evidence.

"I don't believe that individuals who urinate on the street are a threat to our peace and safety," Jessamy said.

In June, her office reviewed 6,252 cases, declining to pursue charges in 1,569 of those cases.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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