Thursday, December 17, 2009

Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld is not on a crusade about drugs

Baltimore Crime Beat: Cops shoot bad guys with guns - Baltimore, Maryland crime news, blogs and video - "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.


  1. I think this growing disrespect for law enforcement -- and the criminal justice system as a whole -- is one of the most pernicious and harmful effects of the drug war. Over the past 70 years or so, we citizens have seen police priorities evolve from protection to punishment.

    It used to be that if something bad happened, the police would show up and see if they could do anything to help people in trouble. Now, at least in popular perception, they show up on a scene looking for people to lock up. The men and women policing the streets every day don't deserve this; they are truly our last line of safety when things become dangerous. We need to work to restore that perception, and changing the way we deal with drugs is the first step in repairing that reputation.

  2. Enjoy what you write Mr. Cooke, thank you.

    You can bet your bottom dollar the public at large, especially the End Prohibition crowd, are fed up beyond belief over the conduct of law enforcement. Because of this hideous injustice, that being the war on drugs, my respect is seriously lagging.

    Just this evening they had a "drug bust" story on the local evening news. The Lieutenant was smiling showing off the balloons of cocaine they scored in their bust. Then at the end of the news report they said the people arrested would "likely be deported". Brilliant! Send 'em back to Mexico so they can re-group and once again support violent cartel.

    Never, ever, do I want to encounter a police officer. Why? I know my rights, I will ensure that my rights are respected, and it will take all my self restraint to stay quiet while the cop acts like God died and put him/her in charge.

  3. Even further back to the root of the issue which opens the essay, would there be so many guns on the street if drugs were legal?

    Don't most of the "bad guys with guns" only have them so they can protect their obscene profits due to prohibition prices on drugs? Or protect the drugs that bring them those profits? Or "protect" their turf they use to deal?

    Yet another problem so easily solved by legalizing and regulating drugs.


  4. The total failure of Federal & State governments to recognize the harm that these ancient laws are creating for people all around the world,is just a crime.The lack of concern for the common man and our basic rights,just boggles my mind.
    Thank you Mr.Cooke for continuing to your efforts on behalf of the people.

  5. I concur with Rhayader. With LEOs paid through the public purse rather than through a more direct means, there is a perception by the public of the police as some type of occupying force. Requiring LEOs to enforce prohibition reinforces that perception, strengthening an "US vs THEM" mentality on both sides. It is a great loss to all concerned.


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