Armed robberies typically last a matter of seconds, and the majority end without anyone suffering physical injury. But the psychological stress on victims and other witnesses of this violent crime can have devastating and lasting effects. These effects are well documented, often times resulting in posttraumatic stress disorder, and other life altering ailments for the victims and witnesses. For obvious reasons we never care to dissect the psychological impacts of a robbery on the actual perpetrator. It is simply impossible to for most people to sympathize with someone who has just terrorized the innocent. But a recent incident in Harford County provided some insight on just how stressful it can be on the body to commit this violent crime.
Years of rigid officer schedules and mandatory five-day workweeks have hindered the Baltimore City Police Department's ability to fight crime in the most effective way possible. But starting this past week the department has implemented a dramatically modified system to determine when and where its officers will patrol the streets. The major changes include the adoption of a four-day workweek with 10-hour days, and the abolishment of a provision that once required the same number of cops to be on duty during all shifts throughout the week, regardless of demand for their services. The city and the police union struck a deal with these two modifications plus a 13 percent raise for all officers, which the city declares it will offset by eliminating over 200 vacant positions. Officials are confident that their new system will cut costs and reduce crime; a claim they say is backed by data from a test run of the new system just last year.
Over the last few decades mail became one of the preferred methods of transporting marijuana across state lines. The carrier was irrelevant, as dealers and smokers would typically use FedEx, UPS, and the postal service to transport their stash across the country. Law enforcement eventually caught on, and began targeting packages at sorting facilities of all the major mail carriers. The targeted packages usually met a certain criteria; they were often from states such as California, Oregon, and Colorado, where marijuana was plentiful and relatively cheap. The packages also fit size and weight criteria, and had common markings and similar types of intended addresses. Upon identifying suspicious packages, law enforcement would order a K9 sniff. If law enforcement officers confirmed their suspicions, they would react in a variety of different ways depending on the agency, suspect, and the amount of pot at issue.
Baltimore still has a long way to go, but it appears the city is heading in the right direction when it comes to fighting crime. City officials including the mayor and police commissioner recently kicked off 2015 with a press conference announcing a decline in Baltimore's overall crime rate. The decline from 2013 to 2014 includes both violent offenses and property crimes such as murder, robbery, and burglary. The number of murders and non-fatal shootings both decreased roughly ten percent. There were 235 murders and 402 shootings in 2013, while there were 211 and 371 respectively this past year. The murder total is the second lowest in decades, with only 2011 seeing a lower number in recent history with 196. The 80's and 90's consistently saw homicide numbers in the 300's, while the beginning of this century mostly saw numbers in the high 200's.
Environmental crimes are rarely the most newsworthy criminal justice stories, but when they do surface most people are surprised by their severity. Illegal dumping is probably the most common environmental crime, and it is normal to see defendants fined or even jailed in these cases. They rarely make the news though, unless the facts are so egregious as to put people in direct danger. Most cases consist of dumping construction debris in the woods or the water in order to avoid paying proper disposal costs. Not the most glamorous stories for the media, unlike cases involving large scale illegal hunting or fishing operations, which have proven to be more attractive to media outlets. Maybe it's for the shock value that accompanies a headline where jail time and fishing are in the same sentence, or maybe because it's just plain old interesting. Whatever the reason, the media recently picked up on one of these cases involving a striped bass harvest and sale operation. According to reports, a Maryland fisherman was recently sentenced to prison in a Chesapeake Bay fishing scandal, which occurred in a sparsely populated area of Talbot County. The sentence includes a year in federal prison, followed by home detention, probation, and hefty fines.
Marijuana infused foods, also known simply as edibles, are becoming increasingly popular for pot users of all ages. These products have been in existence for decades, but for the most part were only available in concert parking lots or as a rare party favor. Edibles were never considered a mainstream way to ingest marijuana, but this changed with the dramatic rise of medical marijuana and new patients it attracted. With the opening of state regulated medical marijuana dispensaries came an increased demand for edibles. Medical marijuana patients with an aversion or even a physical inability to smoke needed a way to ingest the beneficial drug without subjecting themselves to the unwanted smoke. The answer was edibles, and now the demand has created an entire industry for edible marijuana.
Governor Elect Hogan is not scheduled to begin his term as Maryland's top politician for another 6 weeks, but he has already publicized a few of his plans for gun control and drug abuse. The infamous Maryland firearms safety act appears to be safe for the foreseeable future, as Hogan's camp is on record stating they would not take action to try to repeal the law. On the other hand, the act still faces scrutiny from the federal court system. The hardline gun law was upheld in the United States District Court in Baltimore over the summer, but is now before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The federal appellate judges will examine whether the firearms safety act infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and will consider the briefs of twenty-one different states, including Florida and Michigan, who have filed briefs urging the court to overturn the law. The Governor Elect has not publicized a detailed opinion of the firearms safety act, and will likely wait until he has taken office to do so. But Hogan has been clear thus far that his office will not challenge the incoming attorney general or the predominantly democratic legislature to repeal the law.
Hundreds of people are arrested or indicted on felony charges each day in Maryland. Theses cases almost never cause news headlines unless the facts of the case are particularly egregious, or if the defendant is some sort of public figure. Police officers, politicians, athletes, and other entertainers are all fair game for the media if they happen to stray on the wrong side of the law. We've become accustomed to it, and are hardly shocked by the headlines anymore. This is especially true when it comes to Baltimore City, where the last few years have seen dozens of police, corrections officers, and professional athletes charged with crimes. But recently, another type of public figure was charged with a crime, and you may find it hard to simply brush this one off. The Office of the State Prosecutor announced last week that a former public school principal has been indicted on multiple counts of felony theft, theft scheme, and embezzlement, which allegedly took place while she was employed at Western High School. The ex-principal is set to appear in the Baltimore City circuit court in mid January for her arraignment. If convicted she faces numerous years in prison, as well as fines, restitution payments, and reporting probation. The charges themselves are enough to make any parent, taxpayer, or anyone else for that matter cringe, but it gets much worse when you read that the victims of this theft scheme were the very students she was hired to look after.
After months of debate, and a fair amount of frustration the medical marijuana commission finally approved its draft regulations. A few deadlines were pushed back, and licensing fees may be higher than some investors had hoped, but in the end Maryland is on track to have a functioning medical marijuana program within the next year. Wait scratch that. Within the next two years. Maybe. See the program's draft regulations may be out of the committee's tight grasp, but now they still must be approved by the state health secretary, and a panel of lawmakers including state senators and delegates. Both the secretary and the lawmakers could propose modifications to the regulations, which of course would cause further delays. Only when these two parties finally approve the regulations can potential growers and dispensary owners begin to file their applications, and the real logjam may occur at this point.
Just months ago United State's Attorney's Office praised the work of law enforcement in ending a complex Washington D.C. heroin and cocaine trafficking ring. The investigation and subsequent prosecution led to 14 felony convictions, with most of the defendants ending up with prison sentences. But as of this week, only one defendant remains jailed, and the other 13 have been released from prison. Last week a federal judge threw their cases out upon recommendation by the very prosecutors who worked diligently to secure these convictions less than a year ago. The exact reasons for this dramatic sequence of events is unknown, but we do know that at least one corrupt FBI agent participated in the investigation. This particular agent, a 33-year old named Matthew Lowry, was found slumped over in his car with evidence bags containing heroin and firearms seized from the investigation. While this incident alone could create enough suspicion of wrongdoing to warrant new trials in the related cases, it's more likely that the prosecutors became aware of far greater corruption. Corruption that prompted immediate and unfettered action.
Back in the spring, the Maryland General Assembly placed a September 15th deadline on the medical marijuana commission to formulate the program's policy. While that deadline may have been slightly ambitious, the goal was undoubtedly to prevent the commission from procrastinating while patients were suffering, and grower and dispensary investors were becoming frustrated. It initially seemed that the commission was doing exactly what lawmakers wanted to avoid, as the only topics up for discussion at the first few meetings were about when the next meetings would take place. Unsurprisingly the original deadline came and went, but the commission insisted it would be ready with the regulations in late October. This past week we once again learned that the commission has asked for more time to finish the job, and now it seems like November 13th will be the day when final policy is proposed. While the first few delays were understandable, as the public had far more constructive criticism than expected, this last delay clearly falls on the commission, who totally neglected a major component of every functioning medical marijuana program.
There are few law enforcement agencies in the state that receive as much negative publicity as the Baltimore City Police. Each year there are dozens of complaints filed for excessive use of force or other alleged abuses of authority, and there is a constant stream of officers being suspended or placed on leave with pay while being investigated. Some of these complaints make the news, and some end up in court as lawsuits, but the majority of these cases never reach the public's eye. Fortunately though, police administration and the mayor's office do take notice of each of these complaints, and it appears they are both committed to doing something about it. The solution may lie in a technology that is known as body cameras. The idea is simple enough to understand; all on duty officers would be equipped with forward facing video recording devices affixed to their person. But the implementation is not so simple, as there are a host of issues that must be tackled before the program can become a reality.
Law enforcement officers make dozens of drug distribution busts each day in Maryland. State and local police handle most, as only a select few of these busts are carried out by federal law enforcement. Federal agencies such as the DEA could investigate and prosecute any would be drug offender under federal law, but they often defer to state level cops unless the case is large and involves multiple states. Even when these busts are juicy enough for the feds, the media rarely picks up on them, and most go unnoticed by the public. Therefore when the United States Attorney's Office issues a press release about a drug bust that is picked up by almost every local news agency, you know the facts must be particularly scandalous. This past week's Baltimore drug bust definitely fit the bill, as assistant US attorney Rosenstein announced indictments in a multi-state cocaine trafficking operation, which involved tons of drugs, millions of dollars, fancy cars, and money laundering. The investigation had everything the media could ask for in a story, and the bulk of the alleged criminal activity occurred right here in Baltimore.
Anne Arundel County Police have arrested two suspects in remarkably bizarre incident involving a stolen public school bus. The bus was reported stolen at about 5:30 in the morning on Tuesday, as school employees reported to the lot to begin their morning student pickup. Employees at the bus lot notified police and school officials as soon as they noticed the missing vehicle. The first concern for both was the safety of the children, as there was fear that the at large bus thieves could try to pick up and perhaps abduct school children. Parents were notified early in the morning and were told not to have their children wait for the bus. After parents were alerted and concerns over the children subsided, police turned their attention to searching for the missing bus. Not surprisingly, a helicopter spotted the stolen bright yellow school bus a few hours after the search commenced. The final resting point was an unpaved access road underneath electrical towers. Further investigation revealed that the bus was badly damaged and there was even evidence the suspects tried to light it on fire before fleeing the scene. Police used surveillance video and information from a witness to locate and apprehend the two suspects in the area where the bus was found. The video reportedly depicted a visibly intoxicated male and female breaking into bus at around 3:30 am and then driving it through the parking lot gate. While it is unclear how they started the bus, police did see evidence that multiple other buses were vandalized before the couple settled on one to take for their joy ride. The suspects are currently in jail and facing numerous criminal charges including theft, burglary, arson, and destruction of property. A preliminary hearing is set on November 5th in the district court in Annapolis.
Soon after the close of each year's legislative session the governor signs dozens of bills into law. The public typically hears about these new laws at the three main stages when the media can report a concrete story. First we read about a bill being introduced in the house or senate, which is usually in January. Then there's an article or two about the bill's passage by the General Assembly a couple months later, and finally we hear about the governor signing on the dotted line in the spring. After the governor signs the bills there is a yearly downtime that usually lasts about six months until the fall when the laws go into effect. In some years there is no buildup to the October 1st effective date because the new laws simply don't generate enough interest. This year is not one of those years. It's the criminal laws that often receive the most attention, and in 2014 there were a host of them that the public and media were following. No new law has received as much press as marijuana decriminalization, and although as times it seemed like a pipedream, as of today we can officially say it is not a crime to possess less than 10 grams of pot in Maryland.