Sun lets Baltimore police off the hook for their failures

July 08, 2011

Despite the placid assurances of Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, the 4th of July at the Inner Harbor was a nightmare for many. Thugs terrorized tourists. One man was shot twice. Another was slashed to death. A 4-year old was shot in the groin.

The Sun's nuanced assessment? These things happen. Baltimore's reputation for violence "is a product of many circumstances." ("Inner Harbor fireworks," July 6.)

The Sun glows on: "Any reasonable person must conclude that Mr. Bealefeld has been steering Baltimore on an appropriate course. … He has helped reduce the city's homicide numbers to 20-year lows."

Well, some reasonable persons might conclude there have been years of police corruption recently exposed (e.g., tow-truck kickbacks, suppressed rape reporting), but no senior officials held accountable for the shocking and sustained abuses. They probably recall the homicide chief's single-vehicle accident, but wonder how he walked away, scot-free.

Here is a telling quote from an October 2009 Sun profile of a retiring police sergeant, offered as praise by a subordinate: "He fiercely defended us, even if we were wrong."

For the Baltimore City police hierarchy, that's as good as it gets. But The Sun can do better. Stop fiercely defending Mr. Bealefeld.

Crime is down across the nation. Baltimore actually trails the national trend. Mr. Bealefeld deserves about as much credit for the drop in Baltimore's crime rate as he does for the drop in Seattle's, or San Diego's. There are larger forces at work here than Mr. Bealefeld.

How can The Sun praise the commissioner's "strategy," when year after bloody year, the city is a national leader in homicides? When the police hierarchy presides dumbly over rampant corruption, systemic failure, and an abysmal absence of accountability?

We know personally of what we speak, that absence of accountability. It eats us alive.

Our daughter Annie was found dead in Baltimore more than two years ago, stuffed behind a dumpster. The police command quickly and silently jumped to the wrong conclusion, that she had taken her own life. They ignored objective analysis by renowned experts while issuing a series of lies through the press. Wrong from the start, they are absolutely unaccountable for unfounded conclusions and demonstrably false statements. The only agency responsible for investigating Annie's death has not investigated Annie's death.

Ours is not the only grief seared by this lack of police accountability. We can see it destroying the city from the inside out. It's time the people of Baltimore demanded accountability from the Commissioner. Otherwise, the grim view of the city offered by "The Wire" will totally eclipse the charming and lucrative façade of the Inner Harbor.

Mary Jane and Dan McCann, Alexandria, Va.

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