Did the Media and DOJ Encourage Baltimore Mass Arrests?

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By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Graduate-Johns Hopkins University.

Did the Media and DOJ Encourage Baltimore Mass Arrests?

Subtitles

Was Baltimore Policing Conducted in Secret?

Did the DOJ and Most Civic Institutions Support Mass Arrests?

What Did the Media Know, When did They Know It, and What Did They Do?

Article

In Baltimore, everyone knew what the city police was doing regarding mass arrests, why they were doing it and the results, which begs the question, “If so awful, why wasn’t it stopped?”

Those of us who have been in the criminal justice system for decades sometimes wonder at the sheer hypocrisy regarding public discussions of crime and crime control.

No one disputes the scathing nature of the Department of Justice’s report on the Baltimore City Police after the death of Freddie Gray and the resulting riots. But how are we to judge the officers of the Baltimore City Police or the policies implemented by the city of Baltimore and state of Maryland.

When you read reports in the media and resulting public comments, you get the idea that the collective body of cops in Baltimore were uncaring, brutal, thugs who threw out the US Constitution while ruining the lives of individual citizens through arrest who were overwhelmingly black.

Is this a fair perception of Baltimore cops or the individuals making policy?

In Baltimore, everyone knew what the city police was doing, why they were doing it, including the media. Is it fair to ask about the role of the media? I guarantee that younger reporters for the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post and the nationals are asking their professional elders, “If so bad, why didn’t we stop it.?”

Spotlight

Spotlight is a wonderful movie examining the Boston Globe’s investigation (Pulitzer Prize for Public Service) of the child sex abuse scandal in Boston as hundred of Catholic priests were shielded from arrest and prosecution.

There is a scene where the lead investigator of the Spotlight investigative team admitted that he was in charge of the Globe’s Metro section when evidence first appeared but the story was buried. The inference of the scene is the question, “what did the media know, when did they know it, and what did they do?” The original answer in Boston was “nothing. “

The major difference is that the abuse of children was a secret that took considerable resources on the part of the Boston Globe to eventually investigate and expose.

In Baltimore, everyone knew what the city police was doing. It was loudly and proudly proclaimed as good and necessary for the survival of the city.

The New York City Miracle

Crime and disorder in New York City was legendary and every student of criminology studied the broken windows theory of proactive policing where by taking care of the little stuff, the big stuff would take care of itself.

Signs of disorder (i.e., loitering, littering, public intoxication or drug use/sales, jaywalking, graffiti) were to be immediately addressed and in the process, individuals were to be searched for major drugs and weapons.

The issues most citizens were concerned about (crime, grime, and disorder) were confronted and police had the legal right to pat the person down. Minor infractions were given a summons and those toting guns and major drugs were arrested.

Crime was driven down and citizens were happy with the results. The New York City miracle was enthusiastically embraced by many other cities, including Baltimore.

So What Was the Media Reaction?

The media plays “the” watchdog role in America Society. Reporters hold the rest of us accountable. When that role is diminished significantly, public trust recedes and our democracy is weakened. If news coverage is bad to inadequate, it has implications for us all. As citizens, we understand the role of the media and how it helps us all come to grips with our lives.

I lived through this era of Baltimore, D.C and national media coverage of the criminal justice system and I simply cannot remember all news coverage of the time, but my summation of media exposure was, “Gee, crime in Baltimore is destroying the city so if it worked in New York, why wouldn’t it work here? Isn’t this a good thing?”

This applies equally to almost every other aspect of society. There were detractors, but beyond the American Civil Liberties Association (ACLU) and some community groups, I don’t remember their objections.

Everyone knew that the police were being aggressive and arresting thousands of people in high crime neighborhoods. When I drove through those areas as a state employee, I was pulled over by city police. These encounters were abrupt as I expected them to be.

But where was the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post and their expressions of concern? Where were the national newspapers? Where was the outrage from community associations and leaders?

The State Provides the Structure for Mass Arrests (from my book, “Success With the Media”)

I was the Director of Public Information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, the largest branch of state government in Maryland, as well as the largest criminal justice organization in the state. The state assumed control of the Baltimore City Jail to relieve the city of a significant financial burden.

When the state took over the jail it decided to erect a state of the art building costing tens of millions of dollars and employing the latest technology adjacent to the old facility. The structure (referred to as Central Booking) was devoted to processing every person arrested in the city of Baltimore, as well as providing additional jail space for those not released after arrest.

The information system that accompanied the new jail was designed to positively identify (through fingerprints) all those arrested to connect them to outstanding warrants for other crimes or with fingerprints left behind at unsolved crime scenes.

Success?

The system turned out to be far more successful than we anticipated. We ended up processing over 20,000 criminals each year for new crimes and warrants beyond those that brought them into booking center. The Baltimore City Police were in the process of arresting thousands of people as part of a crackdown on crime; they would arrest someone for urinating in public, and upon processing; we would discover that he was wanted for robbery. We would book someone for burglary, and discover that his fingerprints were left behind at an unsolved violent crime scene.

The 20,000 additional arrests, plus increased aggressiveness on the part of the city police resulted in 90,000 bookings per year. We expected to process only 60,000 arrests during the early years of the structure.

We were overwhelmed. We did not have the staff, the space, or the procedures to process 90,000 bookings. We started to make mistakes. We started to release criminals from the building before we were supposed to.

There was immense media coverage of mistakenly released offenders. There was also considerable public discussion as to who was arrested and why. We allowed reporters to tour our facilities and see the overcrowding results of mass arrests.

Yet I do not remember many discussions as to the “fairness” of the policies that were bringing so many into custody.

The Hypocrisy of Public Discussion

We all stigmatize events in life based on people or agencies being, “good or bad witches.”

My summation of the current media coverage of the Baltimore City Police regarding the DOJ investigation? Brutal, unconstitutional, racist thugs who like hurting fellow citizens.

So now change proceeds through a cooperative agreement with the Department of Justice (the same Department of Justice who supported aggressive policing and mass arrests back in the day) and city government (who also supported aggressive policing and mass arrests back in the day) and the state of Maryland correctional complex (who built the structure that supported aggressive policing and mass arrests back in the day). It’s all being covered by the media (who also supported aggressive policing and mass arrests back in the day).

But who is getting 99 percent of the blame through media finger pointing? The cop on the street, many (most?) were not here back in the day.

Thus the hypocrisy of public discussion of our criminal justice system rolls on endlessly.

It’s right and necessary to rectify wrongs. Policing based on race is never acceptable. We should form strong bonds with the communities were serve (this site has constantly called for written agreements with communities).

But most major institutions at the national and local levels supported aggressing policing. If wrongdoing occurred, there are many (including the DOJ) responsible for it.

Stop pointing fingers at solely at cops and start pointing them at the people we see in the mirror. To do otherwise is complete hypocrisy.

City jail excerpts from my book, “Success With the Media” at https://amzn.com/151948965X

DOJ press release at

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-findings-investigation-baltimore-police-department

Baltimore Sun Article providing a historical perspective at

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-police-clearing-corner-20160813-story.html

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com. Media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.


Please buy my book: “Amazon Hot New Release”- “A Must Have Book,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization available at Amazon

https://amzn.com/151948965X


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