Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates unveiled Thursday a plan to resume enforcement of two dozen low-level, nonviolent offenses such as drug possession and trespassing, reversing the city’s hands-off policy of the past three years.
Bates appeared beside the mayor and police commissioner to announce the plan that calls for officers to begin writing citations June 12. Adult offenders will be given two citations and offered community service before they will be prosecuted and face fines and jail time.
“There’s going to be some accountability and order in Baltimore,” Bates said.
With the plan, Bates makes good on a campaign promise to reverse a key strategy of the administration of his predecessor, Marilyn Mosby. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, Mosby declared her office would no longer prosecute nonviolent crimes such as drug possession, attempted distribution, prostitution, trespassing, minor traffic offenses, open container and urinating in public. Bates pledged to reverse the policy during his bid to unseat her.
“Residents have clamored for a return to accountability,” Bates said Thursday. “We don’t have to take a hands-off approach when it comes to quality-of-life crimes.”
Since taking office in January, Bates has set to work to develop the citation plan. The plan does not include prostitution, and Bates said he continues to develop a plan specific to those offenses.
The citation plan to begin June 12 applies only to adults. Cases against children will continue in the juvenile system.
Adult offenders who receive first and second citations will be offered the chance for community service and a referral for social services. These men and women will receive a court date and be asked to accept the services. If they accept, prosecutors will drop the charges. To be eligible for community service, men and women must have no pending charges for violent crimes or guns, must not be on parole or probation for violent crimes and must have no outstanding warrants.
Upon receiving a third citation, adults will be prosecuted. Penalties vary from a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for riding a dirt bike in the city to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for disorderly conduct. In announcing the plan, city leaders emphasized they were not returning to the heavy-handed policing tactics of the past.
“What this is not and will not be is mass incarceration or aggressive policing,” Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said.
The former state’s attorney, Mosby, drew national attention when she announced Baltimore would stop prosecuting people for nonviolent offenses. She supported the decision a year later with the release of a 14-month Johns Hopkins University study that concluded her policy did not lead to an increase in citizen complaints or threats to public safety.
When asked Thursday about the researchers’ findings, Bates suggested that Mosby’s office paid for the study.
“Sometimes with data, if you’re paying for it, we look at it differently,” Bates said.
In fact, the researchers received no funding from Mosby’s office, said Susan Sherman, one of the authors of the study.
Absent from the news conference were leaders from the Office of the Public Defender.
In an email, Marguerite Lanaux, district public defender for Baltimore, opposed the plan and wrote it was “not true diversion” because it would require men and women to appear in court.
The focus on minor, low-level charges, she wrote, will “inherently result in disproportionate enforcement.” Though Lanaux said people who are cited do not have to go through the trauma of being arrested and booked, “we are strongly opposed to the push to reinstitute charging citizens with these low-level offenses.”
“History supports that the prosecution of these offenses have the effect of targeting unhoused people, Black and Brown individuals, people experiencing poverty, and individuals with mental health concerns,” Lanaux wrote. “Not only does this approach fail to reduce violent crime, it has the potential to lead to police-citizens encounters that escalate to tragedies this city has experienced in the past, such as the death of Freddie Gray.”
Beginning June 12, men and women who receive citations will be assigned a court date. The first hearings are planned for the week of July 17 in Baltimore’s district courthouses.
In an email, Bradley Tanner, a spokesperson for the Maryland Judiciary, wrote the courts are preparing for the new citation docket and “determined to process these cases to maximize access to justice.”
Baltimore police, sheriff’s deputies, campus police at Morgan State and the University of Maryland, state transit and transportation authority police are among the agencies to write citations.
- Driving or riding a dirt bike in the city
- Possessing a dirt bike that is not locked
- A parent or guardian allowing a child to ride or possess an unlocked dirt bike
- Drinking in public
- Minor in possession of alcohol
- False representation
- Disorderly drinking
- Disorderly intoxication
- Loitering - liquor establishments
- Aggressive panhandling to include squeegee window washing
- Soliciting “hack cabs” on highways
- “Hacking” or providing taxi rides without a license
- Urinating in public
- Street vendors without a license
- Failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order
- Disorderly conduct
- Theft up to $1,500
- Malicious destruction under $1,000
- Possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute
- Drug possession (not marijuana)
This article has been updated with a quote from Johns Hopkins professor Susan Sherman about the source of funding for the crime study.