Baltimore Crime Beat: Cops shoot bad guys with guns - Baltimore, Maryland crime news, blogs and video - baltimoresun.com: "You don't hear me crusading about drugs in America,"
Lamenting the rise in violence in Baltimore City and what he sees as light sentences for gun offenders, Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealefield stated "You don't hear me crusading about drugs in America, or about a lot of other stuff. But damn it, if we're gonna make this city safe, every single person with a love or passion for this place has to be serious about bad guys with guns. If there's zero tolerance for anything, it's got to be around guns."
It was somewhat encouraging to read these remarks and I think that the Commissioner's heart is in the right place. He doesn't want judges to throw the book at people for drug offenses, but he does want them to get tougher on violent offenders.
We must consider how the war on drugs has created this situation. I have friends today who prosecute gun cases in Baltimore City. They tell me that even in cases where the police officer recovers the gun off the suspect, jurors are still reluctant to convict and often don't. Many of them either don't understand the law, don't trust the police, or just don't want to convict for a variety of other reasons. Judges realize this and often help to resolve cases short of trial. A suspended sentence is better, they think, than a not guilty verdict.
But why do jurors not trust the police or why are they otherwise unwilling to convict? Well, here are some examples of cases that I came across while in Baltimore City -
Police officers walk up to a porch where a half dozen or more people are standing and smell marijuana. They don't see who is smoking, but as they approach they see an unattended marijuana cigarette in an ashtray. They arrest everyone on the porch and take them to Central Booking, which is probably the worst place this side of hell. Months later all charges are eventually dismissed.
A man is drinking a beer while on his porch. The police approach and arrest the man. Drugs are recovered. The case is eventually dismissed. You have the right to drink beer on your porch. The arrest was illegal.
A kid is riding his bike just before the sun comes up. He doesn't have a light on his bike as required by some obscure law. He is arrested. Drugs are recovered. I charged the case. Then my supervisor (rightly) chewed me out for charging it and wasting taxpayer money on it.
I could go on and on. Police officers make easy drug arrests and clog the system. The public is sick of how they are treated by the police and the criminal justice system. No one believes that the officers making the drug arrests are concerned about the problems of drug addiction. They just need to make an unofficial quota. Rights are trampled on. Feelings are hurt. So when those same people get to be on juries they are not inclined to convict. Thus judges work out cases. Some really bad guys benefit. And Commissioner Bealefeld has a fit. I can't blame him for being frustrated. But he should understand that the drug war and the way his officers fight it deserves much of the blame.