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Police Commissioner Harrison discusses ‘squeegee kids’ and his 5-year crime plan with Baltimore’s business leaders.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison told a group of city business leaders Wednesday that squeegee kids on public streets are rarely committing crimes, but added that more resources and creative ideas are needed to steer them off the streets and into better paying jobs.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison told a group of city business leaders Wednesday that squeegee kids on public streets are rarely committing crimes, but added that more resources and creative ideas are needed to steer them off the streets and into better paying jobs. (Phil Davis)

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison pushed back Wednesday on calls for increased police pressure on the city’s so-called squeegee kids while telling city business leaders about his five-year crime plan.

Speaking with the Greater Baltimore Committee, Harrison said he would like to see more resources directed toward helping teenagers and young adults get good jobs and a better education. He also touted his five-year crime-fighting strategy meant to reduce violence and increase community engagement while complying with reforms required under a federal consent decree.

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While Harrison’s talk touched on a number of topics related to his already released crime plan, here are some highlights from the approximately hour-long discussion:

Squeegeeing is not a crime

While the teenagers and adults cleaning car windows at city intersections represent a public safety issue, Harrison said they are not committing a crime.

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“When they step out of line and are committing harm and damage to people’s cars and are attacking people, those are crimes that we absolutely are enforcing,” he said, adding that stationing officers at known intersections means taking officers away from addressing more serious crime.

“And then, it is unconstitutional to stop them for asking for money, even in the street,” he said. “It is a public safety hazard for them to be in the street, but it is not illegal for them to be in the street and be asking for money.”

Harrison said the department is also working with Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s Office of Children and Family Success to address the underlying issues of poverty and a lack of economic opportunity.

“That is an issue that, like murder, has a deep-rooted issue that’s driving those young men to do that,” said Harrison, adding that several former “squeegee kids” have found jobs since connecting with the mayor’s office.

He also claimed that those people are making significantly more money on the streets than they would be if they were working a minimum wage job, making it difficult to convince them to get a job.

No comment on ‘State of Emergency’ bill

Harrison dodged a question about a bill in the General Assembly that would allow the governor to declare a state of emergency in Baltimore due to the murder rate. The bill would allow Gov. Hogan to declare a state of emergency in any municipality or county that has a homicide rate of three per 100,000 residents in a month or higher, a threshold Baltimore already meets.

While Harrison wouldn’t say whether he supported the bill, he addressed one of the main points of declaring a state of emergency, which would allow the governor to divert state police and other resources to Baltimore after his declaration.

He said his department is in regular contact with many of the agencies who’d be assisting, including Maryland State Police, Maryland Transportation Police and the state’s Attorney General’s Office. The measure, introduced by Republican Senator J.B. Jennings of Harford County, is highly unlikely to make it to law, legislators on both sides of the aisle have said.

“We want all of the resources and we welcome all the help that we can get, but what I will say is that I can make a phone call at any time because state police are in the city every day," Harrison said. "Transit Authority is in the city every day. When it comes to law enforcement agencies, I have all of that at my disposal just with a phone call to those chiefs, already. How we create more prosecutions is unknown to me.”

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