How many scandals can a police department weather before the leadership is blamed? That’s what many people are wondering about the Baltimore Police Department and it’s Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. While the initial shakeups provided him an opportunity to show his leadership under pressure, some are starting to wonder if the problems are now a sign of poor leadership.
According to the Baltimore Sun, when asked to reflect on his time with the department in 2009, Bealefeld said “Come on, has anybody had to go through what we’ve gone through?”
Known for not pulling any punches at press conferences and being relatively available, Bealefeld has steered clear of the press lately while maintaining contacts with community leaders.
He could be pulling back because he knows the heat is on. Just this year, a plainclothes officer was shot by other officers outside a nightclub, a veteran officer was indicted for running a heroin ring and even selling heroin on police property, and 50 officers have been identified in a kickback scheme involving towing companies.
While crime in the city is down, this reflects a nationwide trend and may not be indicative of Bealefeld’s performance. “The reality is, chiefs of police nationwide work for a political leader, and their tenure is based on how they serve that political leader,” says the director of Johns Hopkins University Police Executive Leadership Program Sheldon Greenberg. “What politicians want first and foremost is good stats, and they’re willing to forgo a lot of other things if their chiefs give them good statistics.”
In other words, had crime risen or even remained steady, there’s a chance Bealefeld may not have lasted this long.
Despite all of the drama within the department, some of Bealefeld’s support is holding pretty steady. He has the confidence of community leaders behind him and that of the FOP. On the other hand, some believe his time is up and the department could benefit from new leadership.
There’s little doubt that community confidence in the department is wavering. How can a city expect to stand behind its police when the police keep making headlines with questionable and even criminal behavior themselves. Pointing fingers doesn’t solve the problem and while the finger-pointing is going on, leaders are missing their opportunity to restore public confidence.
It’s normal to not trust the police in Baltimore—a sad but true fact. But when you are arrested and charged with a crime, your mistrust can be at an all-time high. A criminal defense attorney is often the only person that you might feel comforted by within the legal system. If you are facing charges, contact us today for a consultation on your case.
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.
Nevermind that the Baltimore Police Department is in the midst of the largest corruption case in recent history, the top prosecutor is considering eliminating the police misconduct unit. In office for only a few months, Gregg Bernstein has already eliminated a list banning certain officers from testifying at trials because of their known credibility issues. What isn’t clear is why he is moving in these directions.
The Police Misconduct Unit of the local prosecutor’s office was specifically created to handle issues within the local police department when there was the potential for criminal charges. It is only a decade old, though it may not last much longer if Bernstein has his way.
While the elimination of this unit would be contrary to what other cities across the nation are doing, it seems Bernstein is trying to mend a formerly troubled relationship between his office and the police department. One professor remarks, “There’s a kind of loss of confidence in the whole law enforcement structure of the city of the two main players are feuding with each other.”
What he doesn’t touch on is the public’s confidence in the “law enforcement structure” when there’s no formal route for accountability issues. For instance, if the department handles its misconduct internally, will the public have faith that the system will require accountability for complaints of misconduct? It seems discord between the police and the prosecutor’s office can be achieved without hampering the relationship between the police and the public they are tasked with protecting.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Bernstein has declined to comment on the changes aside from a paltry 500 word statement sent out last week, citing a “tight” schedule and an inability to “meet or talk on the phone” about the issues at hand.
The changes and Bernstein’s “clean up” of current processes and procedures are an attempt to undo harm caused by a serious rift between the former State Prosecutor and local police.
In Prince George County, another new prosecutor is making changes too, though hers are interestingly contrary to Bernstein’s. Prosecutor Angela Alsobrooks has created a Special Prosecutions Unit for issues involving police misconduct and corruption and has created a list banning certain officers from testifying (similar to the one destroyed by Bernstein).
The reason for such a list is pretty simple. If a prosecutor calls an officer to testify in a criminal case and that officer has any history of lying or misconduct allegations, his testimony can be pretty unconvincing and actually harm the state’s case. By not calling such officers, they eliminate the risk of damaging a criminal case against a defendant.
What Bernstein does with his intentions to dismantle the Police Misconduct Unit remains to be seen. However, he should be cautious not to harm the already damaged public trust in the Baltimore Police Department.
We’ve all heard of cases getting continued or even dismissed when an investigating police officer doesn’t show up for court. We know their testimony can be crucial in a prosecutor’s criminal case against someone—so crucial that without it, there’s often no case at all. But, what about when the testimony comes from an officer who was deemed dishonest by a judge, several years ago?
According to the Baltimore Sun and numerous court rulings, the integrity of a police officer is so crucial, that a single case of dishonesty or blundering testimony can haunt them for years to come and potentially affect every case they touch from then on.
One officer, as profiled in this report from the Sun, testified in 2003 as the arresting officer in a drug case. His testimony differed from his written reports and the judge called him out, calling his story “implausible and incredibly presented”. The judge would dismiss the charges.
Now, seven years later, that same officer is still paying for his mistakes. His integrity was called into question in yet another drug case, with the suspected dealer’s defense lawyer questioning his credibility as the arresting officer. The prosecutor, in essence, defended the officer and although the dealer would be convicted, the conviction was overturned on appeal because the prosecutor overstepped his bounds in vouching for the credibility of the officer.
When an entire criminal investigation is based on a police officer’s account of what happened, that officer’s testimony in court is crucial to the state’s case against the suspect. If there’s any suspicion that the cop is less than honest or credible, it’s the defense attorney’s duty to bring this up in court.
On the flip side, the prosecutor cannot vouch for the credibility of the officer. This protects the integrity of the jury and the court proceedings overall. It’s believed if the prosecution is allowed to defend a witness’s credibility the jury might believe their opinion over facts and in criminal trials, the facts are what really matter.
When you are facing criminal charges, it’s the job of your defense attorney to dissect the case against you. This doesn’t only involve studying the police reports but ensuring that what’s presented as evidence against you is done so with respect to your constitutional rights. If a shady officer expects to testify in your case, a defense attorney would be remiss if they neglected to point out their questionable professionalism.
When you’re facing charges, you shouldn’t have to worry about the police officer’s history or their propensity towards telling the truth. Your lawyer can do that for you. If you’re facing charges, contact our offices today for a consultation on your criminal case.
A Maryland court of Appeals clarified under which conditions law enforcement can stop cars who seem to have illegal tint on their windows this past week. Basically, they found that if an officer can articulate in a credible manner what made the vehicle appear to have illegal tint, it can be stopped. Their wording suggests, however, that cops may want to have a tint testing device handy when making those stops, however.
Maryland law states that no less than 35% of light can be transmitted through a vehicle window for it to be considered legal. More often than not, the initial estimate of this and the source of a fine is nothing more than a guess by officers.
The case that brought the issue before the Court of Appeals involved a man driving a vehicle that was suspected of carrying drugs. The officer had no legal justification for stopping the car he saw, even though he thought it to be the suggested drug car. The tint, however, did appear suspiciously dark.
According to the officer, the vehicle’s driver was obeying all traffic laws but noticed at an intersection that he couldn’t see into the vehicle. This was the basis of his traffic stop—possible illegal tint. By the officer’s own admission, he hadn’t received any training on window tinting but that he believed he should have been able to see inside.
In the vehicle was found cocaine and marijuana. The Circuit Court in the driver’s criminal case suppressed the evidence stating it was an illegal seizure as there wasn’t sufficient probable cause to stop and search the car. The Court of Appeals agreed.
When the police search you or your vehicle, they must follow the letter of the law. This includes having what’s referred to as probable cause or a warrant. Without it any evidence seized might not be admissible in court, as the drugs in this case weren’t.
According to the Baltimore Sun, 30 State Troopers carry light meters, able to test tinting while about 1,500 do not. By their own estimate, if you can’t see in the vehicle, you may want to get it checked before you end up in a questionable traffic stop.
Criminal evidence can take many forms. All criminal evidence must be seized legally for it to be used against you in court. As a Maryland criminal defense attorney, it’s part of my job to look at how the evidence against you was taken and to ensure your constitutional rights are protected throughout the criminal process.
If you’re facing charges, contact me today for a free consultation on your case.
In a case of videotaping a police officer that I wrote about last week, a judge has issued his ruling, a ruling in favor of police accountability and the rights of the people. A 24 year old National Guardsman was facing felony wiretapping charges for recording a Maryland state police officer during a traffic stop.
At issue was whether citizens had the right to record the police acting within an official capacity—with or without their knowledge. The state argued that this man had no right to record the encounter, while his defense and the ACLU stated there was no “expectation of privacy” on a crowded roadway.
The judge ruled in favor of the defendant, tossing his wiretapping charges while upholding his traffic citations. According to the Baltimore Sun, he recognized that public servants like the police shouldn’t expect to be “shielded from public scrutiny.” He also cited the Rodney King case in his findings and said that with the onslaught of technology, people in general can’t really expect to not be recorded at any given time.
Finally, he affirmed what the ACLU argued in saying, the incident “took place on a public highway in full view of the public. Under such circumstances, I cannot, by any stretch, conclude that the troopers had any reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversation with the defendant…”
Current wiretapping laws were written years ago, long before nearly everyone was walking around with recording devices in their pockets. As technology advances, so must the interpretation of the laws.
The State Attorney for Harford County could appeal the decision if he disagrees with the judge’s ruling. But, at the time of the Sun article, that decision hadn’t been made. He is quoted as saying he believes the ruling will make the police’s job more difficult—though I question how.
With great power comes great responsibility and a potential for abuse. Although the majority of police officers conduct themselves in ethical and responsible manners, we have seen what happens when this isn’t the case. Being able to record police interaction in public is a win on the side of citizen protection.
Without recordings, most cases boil down to he said/she said and other evidence. It’s very rare to have video footage at a criminal trial. However, this other evidence can be used to build a case successfully against a defendant or, on the other hand, can serve to prove their innocence.
When you are facing criminal charges, an attorney will help you analyze all of the evidence against you and that evidence that may work on your behalf. If you have questions about your case or are in need of representation, contact me today.
The cops can record you. Whether it’s a dashboard camera or a red light camera, your objection doesn’t hold any ground with law enforcement. So, why is a Maryland man facing charges for recording an officer during a traffic stop?
Prosecutors argue the man was in violation of wiretapping laws when a camera mounted on his motorcycle helmet recorded his interaction with a state trooper. The defense counters that people should be able to record police acting within an official capacity while in public and that the conversation between trooper and suspect was not a wholly private conversation to begin with.
The case is the first of its kind in Maryland and is definitely one to watch. With recording devices in nearly everyone’s pockets these days, clarifying if wiretapping laws apply to cell phone videos is an important matter. Important not only to clarify the law but also to ensure citizens have the ability to keep officers accountable.
Think of Rodney King and all the other video recordings since that time that have uncovered police abuses. As the Baltimore Sun points out in this important quite from ancient Rome, “Who will watch the watchers?”
The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has sent several attorneys to represent the man in this case, stating there’s no reason a citizen should be denied the right to record a conversation when there is no “expectation of privacy.” In other words, if you are in a public place where your tone is audible to others, the recording of your conversation is completely legal.
The Attorney General for Maryland issued an opinion in July telling police that it was within the right of the people to record officers and that those conversations could not be considered private. The Attorney General is considered the law enforcement and legal official for the state.
The suspect in this case uploaded his videotaped encounter to the Internet, which is how law enforcement became aware of his recording. He now faces up to 16 years in prison for this felony charge.
There’s little doubt in my mind that the case will go to trial and whatever the result is, it will be appealed. Definitely a case to watch in months to come, this one could have lasting effects.
The bottom line is that citizens should be allowed to record police interactions when officers are acting in the line of duty. As public servants, law enforcement must be held accountable for their actions and having video evidence of their actions should be seen as positive rather than something to fear.
After all, if they are acting with integrity and respecting the rights of the people, why would evidence supporting this be such a bad thing?
You may not have a tape of your arrest, but chances are I can help you regardless. If you’re up against criminal charges and need an advocate on your side in court, contact me today.
Via the Washington Post, Hagarstown, MD is receiving $900,000 in federal grants to build an elaborate video camera and surveillance “public safety network” throughout the town.
Police Chief Arthur Smith says the department will use the money to link computer, radio, in-car, video camera and other systems for top efficiency.One component will be video cameras. Smith hopes to double the amount of cameras downtown to 60.Thermal imagers, in-car cameras, a supervisor command vehicle camera and moveable cameras will also be purchased.
The amount of computer surveillance and monitoring this system will be capable of is impressive. Their goal appears to be a massive surveillance infrastructure, where there will be no place in town that your actions are not monitored and recorded by the police.
But does everyone agree that this is a good thing? Civil liberties and privacy advocates are sure to be suspicious of this government intrusiveness in our lives.
And it is all happening without any public debate as to what we think is reasonable. The technological capabilities are far ahead of the desires of the citizens.
Already there are widespread license plate scanners tracking an monitoring our driving habits.
We are certainly happy when they are used to quickly identify and track stolen cars, or even find fugitives wanted for failure to appear on a court warrant.
We may be a little more suspicious and skeptical if we are stopped for having a suspended drivers license that we weren’t notified of.
So, where are the limits of what the public things is a reasonable level of monitoring and tracking of ordinary citizens?
We should have that debate now, before the government security infrastructure is fully embedded and impossible to stop.
More details here.