The Baltimore Police department has not been meeting the terms of a settlement regarding illegal arrests according to the ACLU. The settlement arose out of a 2006 lawsuit, which alleged a pattern of thousands of unlawful arrests for various non violent, low level crimes such as drug possession, trespassing, and loitering in Baltimore City. The civil lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of 14 people that were arrested in Baltimore without probable cause. The lawsuit stated that due to Baltimore City’s zero tolerance policy, Baltimore police officers began unlawfully arresting people on the street at an alarming rate.
In 2005, after the Mayor O’Malley enacted the zero tolerance policy, Baltimore police made nearly 110,000 arrests. A majority of these arrests were for minor offenses such as trespassing, loitering, or drug possession. Baltimore prosecuting lawyers never filed charges in many of these criminal cases because the Baltimore police officers simply had no justification for making the arrests in the first place. To make matters worse, Baltimore police officers frequently neglected to indicate their observations used to determine probable cause in these arrests. The most important function of an arrest report is indicating probable cause for an arrest so that a first appearance judge can determine a bond, or if the arrestee is entitled to release. Including probable cause observations in an arrest report is a basic law enforcement skill, which all police officers learn in the police academy.
Arrest reports are powerful documents that have to ability to take away a persons liberty, even if for only a short period of time. Opponents of the zero tolerance policy, including the ACLU, alleged that Baltimore police officers were not taking arrest reporting seriously and were not adequately trained. These were two issues that were addressed in the lawsuit’s settlement agreement. In the settlement agreement, the Baltimore police department was required to formally reject the zero tolerance policy, as well as pay $870,000 and institute new training programs for Baltimore cops. The training programs included directives on how to avoid making low level arrests for crimes such as drug possession and trespass, and instructed officers to utilize alternatives to arrest such as verbal warnings and citations.
Although the Baltimore police department has made strides in cracking down on unnecessary or unlawful arrests, the ACLU is reportedly not satisfied. Baltimore police have instituted training programs, and new directives on arrest policies, and as a result arrest numbers have decreased by about 50 percent. The ACLU still believes that the number of arrests without probable cause is too high though, as evidenced by the findings of an independent auditor. The auditor concluded that a minimum of 17 percent of Baltimore City arrests were found to lack probable cause, but that number could be as high as 35 percent if expunged cases, and cases involving more serious crimes such as weapons crimes were included. The Baltimore police department may be working to eliminate unlawful arrests, but there is clearly more work to be done.
Benjamin Herbst is a Baltimore criminal lawyer specializing in all crimes such as drug possession, trespass, loitering, and weapons crimes. Contact the Maryland criminal defense lawyers at The Herbst Firm at 410-207-2958 for a free consultation.
Baltimore police not meeting terms of legal settlement, ACLU says, baltimoresun.com, April 30, 2012.