Baltimore – One City, Two Views

The conclusions of the federal Department of Justice pattern and practice investigation of Baltimore police operations are certainly not indicative of the department that I policed during the 1980s. Based upon the narrative as presented, Baltimore has entered into a Consent Decree agreement which current Attorney General Jeff Sessions has warned could make Baltimore even “less safe.”

The idea that citizens constitutional rights were routinely violated predominantly in impoverished areas largely populated by African Americans is not just a disturbing conclusion, but a divisive one as well. The data appears to largely serve to promote what I believe to be a false narrative based upon my own service to the city of Baltimore.

I was party to the scrupulous protection of rights afforded to all by the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law by members of the Baltimore Police Department. Of course, it should go without saying that police stops and questioning of individuals occur more frequently in areas of high crime consistent with the rules of engagement specified by the United States Supreme Court in Illinois v. Wardlow.

Having worked both West Baltimore, being predominantly black and mostly impoverished, and Roland Park/Mount Washington, which is mostly white and largely affluent, during my Baltimore police days, I can honestly say that I personally policed the exact same way in all areas that I patrolled. I witnessed the same pattern of job performance from others, many of which were trained by me. Yet, the Department of Justice report acknowledged “perception” of two Baltimore’s and how they were policed, one wealthy and largely white, the second impoverished and black.

Back to reality . . .

In March of 2015 I watched former President Obama hold up the Baltimore police force as a model of unbiased community policing, and take credit for the reduction of nationwide violent crime rates. Actually this is a traceable result of the hard line zero tolerance approach used in communities throughout the U.S. resulting in the same mass arrest policies that the Obama administration rallied against.

Yet in areas implementing the soft approach Justice Department model for policing, such as Chicago and Baltimore, murder rates in real-time have gone through the roof.

The numbers of victims are staggering. Known as the heroin capital of America, Baltimore, with a population of 622,000 is on track to potentially exceed 400 homicides in 2017. Chicago’s controversial and tough gun laws have surely not produced the result desired there.

The Department of Justice Consent Decree calls for reforms to police training and practices, but how does the Department of Justice’s federal idea of policing patterns and practices address any improvement pertaining to drug use and crime?

Under the U.S. Constitution, police powers were not delegated to the federal government. That means those powers are reserved to the states, communities, or the people, as made explicit in the 10th Amendment. Law enforcement must be local with the right to reject “best practice” theory and models for law enforcement as promoted by law enforcement think tanks comprised largely of “experts” who lack any real street credentials.

Instead, how about criminal justice reforms for sentencing of convicted violent and repeat offenders? If properly implemented, crime rates should see a marked decrease and the need for proactive police stops would be diminished. All within accepted constitutional boundaries.

As a result of a recent meeting, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has proposed a plan to introduce “truth in sentencing” legislation. Conspicuous by their refusal to attend the governor’s meeting were the very Baltimore City judges that would conceivably be held to such a standard. They cited concerns of independence from outside influence on cases from the executive or legislative branches of government as rationale for their absence.

In the final analysis it is clear that in order to achieve a successful result, if results truly matter, we must leave policing to officers and not jurists, politicians, pundits and academics blinded by “perceptions” and “political correctness.”

Joel E. Gordon is a former field training officer with the Baltimore City Police Department and was certified as a Maryland D.A.R.E. instructor and crime prevention specialist. As past chief of police for the city of Kingwood, West Virginia he has served as vice-chairman of the regional Tygart Valley Narcotics and Violent Crime Task Force.

He is author of the book Still Seeking Justice: One Officer’s Story and has been a featured columnist in the Morgantown West Virginia Dominion Post newspaper. Joel has stories published in the book All Cops Don’t Eat Donuts and is a regular contributor to the law enforcement magazine NJ Blue Now.

He is the founder of the Facebook group Police Authors Seeking Justice. Joel has recently established an exploratory committee for a possible 2020 campaign for Sheriff of Preston County, West Virginia where he happily resides with his wife, family and pets. His website: stillseekingjustice.com.