O'Malley defends crime policies: "Appropriate action was taken"

Gov. Martin O'Malley covered a range of topics at last night's Baltimore Sun Newsmaker Forum, including a defense of his crime policies during his tenure as Baltimore's mayor. He told Maryland Voices editor Andrew A. Green that increased arrests under his zero-tolerance philosophy was a "greater enforcement of the law" and was endorsed by residents, and said it laid the groundwork for the steep reductions in homicides that occurred after he left the city and new policies were put in place. 

"All the smart people knew there's nothing you can do about [the homicide rate], it's just Baltimore," O'Malley said. "Now we get angry when it doesn't go down, which I think is the healthier response."

For the full exchange, watch the video above and follow along with this transcript:

Green: "You came into office as a tough on crime candidate. Arrests were at extremely high levels during much of your time as mayor. They have now dropped: The Baltimore Police Department is arresting far fewer people and is seeing continued reductions in violent crime, and homicides. In retrospect, what do you think of the tough on crime policies you brought to the city?"

O'Malley: "I think that Commissioner Bealefeld, and I think that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and before her Mayor Dixon, did tremendous - did a lot of really good work, continuing the trend of driving violent crime down. Each of us serves at a different time. I wish I could be the mayor that said arrests are going down, and violent crime is going down. But we had 340, 360 people a year being shot on our streets. We had open-air drug markets that people had given up hope of ever closing down. We had to turn that around, and in the turnaround years, yes, there was greater enforcement of the law. And when people called -

Green: (interrupts) "Or some would say mass arrests of people who were doing nothing wrong."

[In 2009, the city settled a lawsuit over the policies that was filed by the ACLU and NAACP, agreeing to reject "zero tolerance policing."]

O'Malley: "That's not true. nor has that allegation ever been proven. It was the one time that we ever had a commissioner, or a police official, that gave an order that allowed people to conclude that was what he was saying. Appropriate action was taken. If you look at brutality complaints during the years I had the honor to serve the people of every neighborhood of Baltimore, ... the brutality complaints went down, the discourtesy complaints went down, non fatal shootings involving police officers went down, fatal shootings involving police officers went down. And most importantly, homicides and violent crimes went down. In fact, over the last 10 years, Baltimore reduced violent crime and property crimes, part one crimes, by a greater percentage than any other city in America. A lot of really courageous police officers gave their lives to make that happen. Despite the unfounded allegations during those years, I was re-elected with 88 percent of the vote, and, we just responded - you know, if there were 20 people on the corner in Guilford, and you called the police and said something about it, there was a time when police would come there, but if you were on Rose and Ashland complaining about 20 people, the police wouldn't come. I think the people of our city, black and white, rich and poor, prefer it this way to the way it was in 1999."

Green: "If you were to emulate Theodore McKeldin and run for mayor again when your time in the statehouse is done, would you take a different approach now, given the way things are today?"

O'Malley: "We never really looked at - I mean, the bottom line is, you have to look at, are you doing things more effectively to drive down violent crime. Some may say with the hindsight of history, gosh, you didn't need to start enforcing the law and everything, and driving open air drug markets indoors, they might have gone there on their own. I don't believe that's true. There's a lot of things we're doing now, that we weren't able to do before. In otherwords, there is an alignment of effort in our criminal justice system - federal, state, local, in Prince George's County and Baltimore City, that we have never had before. They're all the things we talked about in those days, but each one has kind of layered on in recent years. The most recent layers have been the violence prevention initiative, in parole and probation, and also the violence prevention initiative in juvenile services. For our audience, we used to supervise everybody so much that we supervised no one very much at all. Now what we've done with the data and diagnostics, we've figured out, this 3 or 4 percent of the population are really the ones that are most likely to reoffend, rob someone, shoot someone, murder someone, so we're going to frontload our resources there and put our best agents on the most predatory people. All of that, along with the DNA backlog that we knocked out, along with the license plate readers, along with the networking of cameras, along with better sharing of information, digitizing of fingerprint files, all of those have led to increase in clearance rates and a better job overall, and I think that the progress can continue. We're not done.

"Lots of people, 1999, you remember, people laughed when we said we would drive homicides down to 175, or whatever. Now we're under 200. No one would've believed that 10 years ago. In those days, we always expected it would go up. All the smart people knew there's nothing you can do about it, it's just Baltimore. Now we get angry when it doesn't go down, which I think is the healthier response."

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