Changes in police practices and prosecutors’ procedures, along with potentially unexplainable factors, have all led to a drop in crime, a drop in the number of arrests, and a drop in the number of defendants released from booking without being charged. As explored in this in-depth piece from the Baltimore Sun, many are taking credit for the shift, though not everyone is completely convinced that the numbers tell the whole story.
In 2000, under the leadership of Martin O’Malley, police in Baltimore city were arresting anyone that ran afoul of even the most minor “quality of life” offenses. People were being arrested and booked into jail for things like loitering, nuisance crimes that would otherwise be handled with a warning or a ticket. This led to a mountainous arrest rate over the next several years, with 98,000 arrested in 2005, at the peak of this zero-tolerance practice.
But this high number of arrests led to prosecutors having to turn many arrestees away. Whether the arrest was made on charges that wouldn’t stick or if the offense was simply too minor to clog up the courts, prosecutors released more than 25,000 people without charging them in that same year.
In 2007, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III took over and began a more focused approach to enforcing the law. His department is far more concerned with arresting only the serious, violent offenders. While crime has fallen during his time as Commissioner, some believe it’s an anomaly and has nothing to do with what they fear is a more lackadaisical approach to law enforcement.
During zero-tolerance days, nearly anyone who looked suspicious or who was found loitering would be “slammed to the ground” and searched for drugs. Now, some citizens say those same drug dealers who were scared to come back on the corners are doing just that—standing side by side with the police, unafraid of potential consequences because they know the cops aren’t interested in nonviolent and low level drug offenders anymore.
In 2010, the number of people arrested by Baltimore police was down to 62,341. About 42,000 of these arrests were made “on view” or without a warrant. In 2005, 76,500 of the 98,000 arrests were “on view”. So far in 2011 there have been only 16,000 “on view” arrests.
Because the police are being more discriminate about their arrests, they are giving prosecutors better cases to work with and fewer suspects are being released without charges. Some say changes within the state attorney’s office have also made changes contributing to the lower arrest and higher resolution rates.
Another factor not addressed within the Baltimore Sun article is the “unknown” factor of crime reduction. Major cities across the country are experiencing dramatically lower crime rates and cannot put their finger on the cause. Despite the poor economy, fewer crimes are being committed and no one seems to know why. It would be rash to suggest falling crime could be attributed to good old fashioned police work and nothing else, particularly when the residents of the city see at least some crimes being committed in plain view with nothing being done.