Return to stalag O’Malley?


Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley couldn’t resist putting in his two cents worth about Baltimore’s recent crime surge. And our former mayor knows exactly what to do about it.

A “new strategy” to fighting crime in Baltimore is needed, the governor says. That’s what he said; here’s what he means.

By “new strategy,” O’Malley means Baltimore should return to the bad old days of his zero tolerance policy, when city cops ran buck wild over the populace.

Things got so bad I took to calling the city “Stalag O’Malley,” the better to describe how our then-mayor had reduced Baltimore to little more than a police state.

Remember the thrust of O’Malley’s zero tolerance policy: cops would arrest people for even the pettiest of crimes. Some of those arrested ended up spending an entire weekend at the Central Booking and Intake Center. (At one point inmates spent 48 to 72 hours in Central Booking.)

Let’s recall the lowlights of that time, shall we?

The jive humble arrest of Evan Howard: Howard graduated from the esteemed Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 2004. In April of 2005, he was a freshman, engineering student at Morgan State University. Courtesy of O’Malley’s zero tolerance policy, by the end of April Howard had a criminal record.

Howard came out of a store one day and greeted a friend. A couple of Baltimore cops arrested them. The charge? Loitering!

I kid you not. A young man— a college student with a promising career ahead of him who had no criminal record— spent a weekend (56 hours) in Central Booking on a loitering charge.

The arrest of the meter maid: Remember when two Baltimore cops busted a meter maid for writing a ticket after one of them refused to move a police vehicle? This had to be the low point in police-community relations in Baltimore.

The arrest of Douglas L Johnson: This Vietnam veteran was arrested for sitting on the steps of a vacant building. James Jordan spent 17 hours in Central Booking. His offense? Littering. He dropped a cup on the ground.

Things got so bad in the city that cops themselves rebelled. They went to their union, the Fraternal Order of Police, in an attempt to get O’Malley to cease and desist with his zero tolerance policy.

The officers told the FOP president that they were being pressured into getting the “stop and frisk” numbers up.

Those “stop and frisks” are also called Terry stops. They’re legal— when done properly— but they have to be documented. A District Court judge found that, in many cases, the Terry stops weren’t properly documented. That means those stops violated the law.

O’Malley justified his zero tolerance policy because it led to a reduction in the number of Baltimore homicides. But what lesson was learned?

That if we turn a city into a police state, then we can reduce crime? Well, yeah.

However, you would expect crime to be reduced— and reduced drastically— in a police state. The trick in a constitutional republic is to reduce crime WITHOUT turning society into a police state.

The upside of O’Malley’s zero tolerance policy was, indeed, a reduction in the number of homicides. The downside was that O’Malley’s policy left many Baltimoreans with a distrust of police that continues to this day.

During the days of Stalag O’Malley, two Circuit Court judges threw out gun cases because they said they couldn’t trust the word of police. A third Circuit Court judge urged that a grand jury investigate why so many Baltimoreans don’t trust the police.

Return to the days of Stalag O’Malley, governor? Let’s not and just say we did.