Baltimore police 'Public Enemy No. 1' becomes outreach tool

Police have used the label to publicize the search for three suspects this year, who were all arrested within days

September 13, 2013|By Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

At a news conference convened on a bluff overlooking the photogenic Inner Harbor, two top-ranking Baltimore police commanders stood before a bank of television cameras and revealed the identity of a shooting suspect they were seeking.

They called him Baltimore's "Public Enemy No. 1." And less than an hour later, Jamal Williams was in handcuffs.

This summer, police quickly arrested all three of the men they have given the "public enemy" distinction, a most-wanted program established to nab dangerous suspects and elicit more public cooperation in a city known for witness intimidation and "no snitching" street codes. They have designed posters and made a media push to highlight the top fugitives.

"This is a tool we're going to continue to utilize," Baltimore police Lt. Eric Kowalczyk said. "It helps us keep the community engaged and gets the community to help us reduce violent crime in the city. It sends a strong message to criminals: We're going to find you."

Rolled out amid a spike in gun violence and robberies in a city where half of open murder cases remain unsolved, the public-enemy program also has some observers cautioning that splashy arrests alone will not be enough to reassure the public about Baltimore's pervasive crime problems.

Police union President Robert F. Cherry, who has been critical of the way Baltimore police release public information, said the department should do more to inform neighborhoods of crimes that affect them in "real time," such as property damage and assaults.

Still, he said, the public-enemy program helps to engage city residents.

"What this does highlight is that we want community involvement," he said. "We want people to call in with tips."

Federal authorities and other police agencies have employed "most-wanted" programs for decades, and say they help to draw public attention toward cases in which dangerous fugitives are at large.

Baltimore police offer tipsters anonymity in exchange for information about the whereabouts of fugitives; members of the public can even send messages through Twitter with the hashtag #PublicEnemyNumber1.

Williams, 20, whose last known address was in the 1500 block of Lochwood Road, was arrested Monday afternoon — about an hour after the police announced his identity and circulated his mug shot on social media.

Officials said they don't think the publicity helped them find Williams, but police said they only really care about the result — and made another public announcement to media outlets that the "newly minted Public Enemy Number One" was in custody.

Williams is accused of shooting a male Morgan State University student in the left leg and a woman in the left arm as a Northeast Baltimore house party dwindled early Sunday, Baltimore police Lt. Col. Dan Lioli said. The male victim told police two men approached him from a street corner in the 4400 block of Marble Hall Road and shot him with a handgun.

Lioli said the shooting stemmed from a dispute earlier in the night. Williams was named the city's top public enemy because he fired into a group of six to eight people, showing little regard for innocent lives, Lioli said.

While the first two fugitives dubbed Public Enemy No. 1 had extensive arrest records, Williams does not have any prior arrests as an adult, according to Maryland court records. Kowalczyk said he had been charged with first- and second-degree assault as a juvenile; the outcome in those cases couldn't be determined because juvenile records aren't publicly available.

A call to Williams' last-known address was not answered, and an attorney wasn't listed on court records. He faces 12 charges in the recent shooting, including multiple counts of attempted first-degree murder. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 25.

Police said the decision to tag Williams with such a notorious label wasn't taken lightly. High-ranking police officials consider a suspect's history, associations, and the violence of their alleged crime, according to Kowalczyk. Deputy Commissioner John Skinner said police believe he may be tied to robberies around Morgan State University and a shopping center.

Darryl Martin Anderson, the first fugitive tagged "Public Enemy No. 1," was accused of multiple murders. Police said the second suspect, Capone Chase, killed a victim in a playground while he was on his knees.

The use of the term "public enemy" in American law enforcement traces back to the Chicago Crime Commission during the mob's heyday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In April 1930, as the commission was locked in battle with mobster Al Capone and other gangsters, the commission released a list of 28 men they labeled as "public enemies." Capone was placed at the top, in an effort to persuade newspapers to drum up more information on the mob and put pressure on Capone.

Over the years, the FBI and television shows such as "America's Most Wanted" have popularized the use of notorious labels and rankings.

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