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by Peter Moskos

June 24, 2010

Baltimore Arrest Settlement

Seems like the city got off easy by having to pay $870,000 and promise to do the right thing.

About 100,000 people were arrested each year in first half of the 2000s. Last year the number was down to about 70,000, which is still a lot. By comparison, New York City had 341,000 arrests in 2009. That means the Baltimore arrest rate is about 2.5 times higher than the rate in New York City. Of course, Baltimore has a murder rate about six times higher and has a lot more public drug dealing. So it's not easy to conclude what that all means.

When I was a cop, I had a half-hour meeting in City Hall with a certain high-ranking elected official. At one point I remember telling him, "You know, you can't arrest your way out of this murder problem." He looked at me quizzically and said, "Why not?" Anyway...

Perhaps the days of locking people up for just standing around are over. But police need an "or-else" to get people to follow lawful orders. So if loitering arrests decline, I predict arrests for disorderly conduct (the catch-all charge in New York City) and failure to obey a lawful order will go up.


Bob G. said...

Sounds like another version of the "Broken Window" theory.

Or, as the elected official might believe (the LACK of understanding of such).
We do need a lot more "...or else".

Good post.

PCM said...

Broken Windows has a purpose and point and the ultimate goal of order maintenance, crime prevention, and reducing fear.

What was going on in Baltimore was more Zero Tolerance: mindlessly producing stats.

There can be some overlap between Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance, but they are fundamentally at odds. Had all those loitering arrests actually worked at bringing down homicides, it would have been one thing. But it didn't.

I arrested drug dealers for loitering. But I never saw the benefit of chaining up a few junking.

And the focus on arrests, which meant loitering arrests, might have succeeded at keeping non-criminals from hanging out. And that is not good.