LAST WEEK, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley named Edward T. Norris as the city's new police commissioner. Norris is a former New York police commander, and a disciple of zero-tolerance policing. O'Malley also unveiled an aggressive anti-crime strategy that calls for putting more officers on the streets.
While O'Malley has vowed to lower the city's homicide rate, some are worried that his plan will lead to police abuses. Is O'Malley repeating the mistakes of the past to make good on his campaign promise? Is he trying to use the police department to solve a complex social problem rooted in class and race?
Perhaps the answers lie in a 32-year-old report issued by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. President Lyndon B. Johnson created the commission in late July 1967 after riots ripped Newark, N.J., Detroit and other cities and towns.
Members of the bipartisan commission visited riot cities, interviewed many witnesses and sought advice from experts across the nation. In 1968, shortly before the nation was hit with another round of rioting sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the commission issued its report which concluded: "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal."
The report paid special attention to relations between police and black communities because many of the riots were sparked by incidents involving police.
Today, the conditions in many urban neighborhoods are as bad -- or worse -- than they were in 1968. Meanwhile, some cities -- such as New York -- have returned to aggressive police practices that were condemned by the commission 32 years ago. The 1968 commission concluded that aggressive policing increased police-citizen contacts sparking racial unrest.
Is Baltimore headed in the same direction? Is the "aggressive preventive patrol" concept discredited a generation ago coming to Baltimore with a new name or perhaps no name at all?
Here are excerpts from the report:
"In Newark, in Detroit, in Watts, in Harlem -- in practically every city that has experienced racial disruption since the summer of 1964 -- abrasive relationships between police and Negroes and other minority groups have been a major source of grievance, tension and, ultimately, disorder.
"In a fundamental sense, however, it is wrong to define the problem solely as hostility to police. In many ways the policeman only symbolizes much deeper problems.
"The policeman in the ghetto is a symbol not only of law, but the entire system of law enforcement and criminal justice.
"As such, he becomes the tangible target of grievances against short comings throughout that system: against assembly line justice in teeming lower courts; against wide disparities in sentences; against antiquated corrections facilities; against the basic inequities imposed by the system on the poor -- to whom, for example, the option of bail means only jail.
"The policeman in the ghetto is a symbol of increasingly bitter social debate over law enforcement. One side, disturbed and deeply perplexed by sharp rises in crime and urban violence, exerts extreme pressure on the police for tougher law enforcement. Another group, inflamed against police as agents of repression tends toward defiance of what it regards as order maintained at the expense of justice.
"The policeman in the ghetto is a symbol, finally, of a society from which many ghetto Negroes are increasingly alienated. At the same time, police responsibilities in the ghetto have grown as other institutions of social control have lost much of their authority: the schools, because so many are segregated, old and inferior ; religion, which has become irrelevant for those who lost faith as they lost hope; career aspirations, which for so many young Negroes are totally lacking; the family, because its bonds are so often snapped. It is the policeman who must fill this institutional vacuum, and is then resented for the presence this effort demands.
"Alone, the policeman in the ghetto cannot solve these problems. His role is already one of the most difficult in our society. He must deal daily with a range of problems and people that test his patience, ingenuity, character and courage in ways that few of us are ever tested. Without positive leadership goals, operational guidance, and public support, the individual policeman can only feel victimized. -- As Dr. Kenneth B. Clark told the Commission:
'This society knows -- that if human beings are confined in ghetto compounds of our cities, and are subjected to criminally inferior education, pervasive economic and job discrimination, committed to houses unfit for human habitation, subjected to unspeakable conditions of municipal services, such as sanitation, that such human beings are not likely to be responsive to appeals to be lawful, to be respectful, to be concerned with the property of others.'
"In an earlier era, third-degree interrogations were widespread, indiscriminate arrests on suspicion were generally accepted, and "alley justice" dispensed with the nightstick was common. Yet there were few riots, and the riots which did occur generally did not arise from a police incident.
ka-5 "Today, many disturbances studied by the Commission began with a police incident. But these incidents were not, for the most part, the crude acts of an earlier time. They were routine, proper police actions such as stopping a motorist or raiding an illegal business. Indeed, many of the serious disturbances took place in cities where police are among the best led, best organized, best trained and most professional in the country.
"Yet some of the activities of even the most professional police department may heighten tension and enhance the potential for civil disorder. An increase in complaints of police misconduct, for example, may in fact be a reflection of professionalism; the department may simply be using law enforcement methods which increase the total volume of police contacts with the public. The number of charges of police misconduct may be greater simply because of the volume of police-citizen contacts is higher.
"Negroes firmly believe that police brutality and harassment occur repeatedly in Negro neighborhoods. This belief is unquestionably one of the major reasons for intense Negro resentment of the police ...-
"Physical abuse is only one source of aggravation in the ghetto. In nearly every city surveyed, the Commission heard complaints of harassment of interracial couples, dispersal of social street gatherings, and the stopping of Negroes on foot or in cars without obvious basis. These, together with contemptuous and degrading verbal abuse, have great impact in the ghetto ...
"Some conduct -- breaking up of street groups, indiscriminate stops and searches -- is frequently directed at youths, creating special tensions in the ghetto where the average age is generally under 21. Ghetto youths, often without work and with homes that may be nearly uninhabitable, particularly in the summer, commonly spend much time on the street. Characteristically, they are not only hostile to police, but eager to demonstrate their own masculinity and courage. The police, therefore, are often subject to taunts and provocations, testing their self-control and, probably, for some, reinforcing their hostility to Negroes in general. Because youths commit a large and increasing proportion of crime, police are under growing pressure from their supervisors -- and from the community -- to deal with them forcefully. 'Harassment of youths' may therefore be viewed by some police departments -- and members even of the Negro community -- as a proper crime prevention technique. ...
Police patrol practices
"Although police administrators may take steps to attempt to eliminate misconduct by individual police officers, many departments have adopted patrol practices which in the words of one commentator have 'replaced harassment by individual patrolmen with harassment by entire departments.'
"These practices, sometimes known as "aggressive preventive patrol," take a number of forms, but invariably they involve a large number of police-citizen contacts initiated by police rather than in response to a call for help or service. One such practice utilizes a roving task force which moves into high-crime districts without prior notice and conducts intensive, often indiscriminate, streets stops and searches. A number of persons who may be described as suspicious are stopped. But so are persons whom the beat patrolman would know are respected members of the community ...
"In some cities, aggressive patrol is not limited to special task forces. The beat patrolman himself is expected to participate and file a minimum number of stop-and-frisk or field interrogation reports for each tour of duty. This pressure to produce, may lead to widespread use of techniques without adequate differentiation between genuinely suspicious behavior, and behavior which is suspicious to a particular officer merely because it is unfamiliar.
"Police administrators, pressed by public concern about crime, have instituted such patrol practices often without weighing their tension-creating effects and the resulting relationship to civil disorder.
Problem of police protection
"The strength of ghetto feelings about hostile police conduct may even be exceeded by the conviction that ghetto neighborhoods are not given adequate police protection.
"This belief is founded on two basic types of complaint. The first is that the police maintain a much less rigorous standard of law enforcement in the ghetto, tolerating there illegal activities like drug addiction, prostitution and street violence that they would not tolerate elsewhere. The second is that police treat complaints and calls for help from Negro areas much less urgently than from white areas. ...
"There is evidence to suggest that the lack of protection does not necessarily result from different basic police attitudes but rather from a relative lack of police personnel for ghetto areas, considering the volume of calls for police. As a consequence, the police work according to priorities. Because of the need for attention to major crimes, little, if any, attention can be accorded to reports of a suspicious person, for example, or a noisy party, or a drunk. And attention even to major crimes may sometimes be routine or skeptical ...
"In allocating manpower to the ghetto, enforcement emphasis should be given to crimes that threaten life and property. Stress on social gambling or loitering, when more serious crimes are neglected, not only diverts manpower but fosters distrust and tension in the ghetto community.
Need for policy guidelines
"How a policeman handles day-to-day contacts with citizens will, to a large extent, shape the relationships between the police the community. These contacts involve considerable discretion. Improper exercise of such discretion can needlessly create tension and contribute to community grievances.
"Formally, the police officer has no discretion: his task is to enforce all laws at all times. Formally, the officer's only basic enforcement option is to make an arrest, or to do nothing. Formally, when a citizen resists arrest the officer's only recourse is to apply such reasonable force as he can bring with his hands, nightstick, and revolver.
"Informally -- and in reality -- the officer faces an entirely different situation. He has and must have a great deal of discretion; there are not enough police or jails to permit the levels of surveillance that would be necessary to enforce all laws all the time -- levels which the public would, in any event, regard as intolerable. ..."