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by Peter Moskos

May 4, 2012

Baltimore's Bealefeld Calls It Quits

After 31 years on the force and 5 years at the top, Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld announced his resignation. I wish him well. Certainly Bealefeld was the best police commissioner Baltimore has seen in the past 18 years (I can't talk about the pre-Frazier era). Five years on top may not sound like a long time, but Bealefeld is the longest serving commission since Donald Pomerleau's epic reign ended in 1981.

If nothing else, Bealefeld provided some stability to the top of a department that had seen decades of quick-to-come and quick-to-go commissioners (one a felon) who produced little but a massive churning at the top ranks.

But Bealefeld's accomplishments are real. Homicides in Baltimore dropped to under 200 for the first time in three decades. Some dismiss this accomplished too quickly by saying crime is going down everywhere and pointing out that Baltimore's homicide rate is still horribly high. Sure, but crime didn't have to go down in Baltimore and hadn't gone down significantly before Bealefeld.

Equally important, this crime drop occurred while arrest numbers decreased (from 100,000 in 2005 to45,000 in 2011). Time and time again it's been shown that a policy of mass arrests does not reduce crime, and yet a takes a bold police leader to realize and implement strategies that change a police culture of zero-tolerance and making as many arrests as possible.

Also significant, Bealefeld partnered with the city's new State's Attorney, Gregg Bernstein. Bealefeld boldly (and received flack for) endorsed Bernstein by putting a campaign sign on his lawn. Bealefeld got flack for this, but the controversy gave Bernstein the boost needed to defeat his disastrous long-serving anti-police predecessor, Patricia Jessamy.

Peter Hermann, Julie Scharper, and Justin Fenton give a fuller story in the Baltimore Sun.


Anonymous said...

Kind of funny that Bealefeld and Goldstein are both announcing resignations at the same time. Does a commissioner in Baltimore ever leave on his own terms at the time of his choosing? If it looks that way, it's only made to look that way. There's always a political angle to it. It will be interesting to see what comes out before August 1.

bacchys said...

This does seem strangely timed. Since I've seen or heard nothing to suggest the Mayor is dissatisfied with Commissioner Bealefeld, I'm inclined to take him at his word.

I wasn't a big fan until he acted to discipline the officer who snatched a woman's cell phone because she was recording him. That's when I knew he was serious about policing the police.

PCM said...

He shouldn't have fired Officer Rivieri (mild punishment was in order). When you piss off good officers by "getting tough", you can make problems a lot worse. There was more corruption under Bealefeld than the BPD has seen in quite awhile. Whatever he did well, I wouldn't put policing the police or improving morale in his "win" column.

As to the timing... I don't know. For now I'm inclined to take Bealefeld at his word.