A major initiative of State’s Attorney Ivan Bates to restart police enforcement of so-called “quality-of-life” crimes has gotten off to a rocky start, with officers writing few tickets and the vast majority of those that are written getting preemptively tossed without the defendant ever being notified.

In the first two months since the Baltimore Police Department told its officers to resume citing low-level offenses — such as loitering, drinking alcohol or urinating in public — they’ve issued 50 citations, acting Police Commissioner Rich Worley told the public safety committee of Baltimore City Council on Wednesday afternoon.

But, Worley emphasized, “I’m not disappointed in that.”

And yet there are major issues with how officers are writing the citations, as evidenced by the fact that 47 of the 50 tickets mentioned by Worley were flagged by an internal police department review as inadequate and never made it to the court docket. Worley said those errors would need to be addressed through a combination of fixes to department technology, more officer training and better supervision.

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The idea is to have the “most effective, least intrusive” interaction with someone committing a low-level crime, Worley said. That means emphasizing verbal warnings over citations and using arrests as a last resort.

“I’m not happy that only three [citations] made it out of the department, but I am happy that the 47 bad ones got caught,” Worley told City Council. “Because it shows that we’re policing ourselves.”

The Police Department hands the list of rejected citations over to Assistant State Attorney Patricia Deros each week. The reason? Deros needs it so she can tell the many defendants who show up for court that they’re not docketed.

“I’m able to tell them that their case won’t proceed and they’re free to go,” Deros said.

It’s a pattern Worley conceded was “wasting the citizens’ time.”

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Still, City Council members were largely supportive of the philosophy behind the program, if concerned by the mechanics.

Councilman Kristerfer Burnett however, questioned the wisdom of the initiative, given the city’s history with biased policing. He also questioned why, given plentiful studies showing police tend to stop minority groups, such as Black men, more frequently than others over low-level crimes, neither the State’s Attorney’s Office nor the Police Department could produce detailed data on the demographics of the interactions.

“We’re in a consent decree for a lot of those very same reasons: bias in policing, over-interaction with minority populations,” Burnett said. “Without that data, there’s no way for us to hold you accountable for how this stuff is actually working out.”

bconarck@thebaltimorebanner.com

Ben Conarck is a criminal justice reporter focusing on law enforcement for The Baltimore Banner. Previously, he covered healthcare and investigations for the Miami Herald and criminal justice for the Florida Times-Union. 

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