Zeroing in on policing styles


Q: How do you define zero tolerance policing? Why do you think it would or wouldn't work in Baltimore? What would you offer as an alternative?

Targeting the visible

William H. Murphy Jr., criminal defense lawyer and an attorney for the family of Larry Hubbard, who was shot and killed by city police last year:

Zero tolerance is zero tolerance for criminal behavior, no matter how small.

By its very nature, zero tolerance targets street crime, things that are visible. It is a program aimed at black inner-city residents. As such, it will be ineffective because it is inherently discriminatory, leads to police abuse and will foster additional community resentment against the police. It will not target crimes that are not obvious, such as drug dealing in the white community, which goes almost entirely unprosecuted except when it is discovered by accident.

As an alternative, first I would get a higher caliber of police recruit. Second, I would target serious crime, such as drug dealing in all neighborhoods, not just the black community, and crimes of violence, including gun crimes. Today's problem is that drugs are overly criminalized in the black community and almost never criminalized in the white community because the white business model of selling drugs is much more sophisticated and clandestine and requires real police work, compared to the black business model, which is unsophisticated and violent and easy to observe.

Community partnership

Gary McLhinney, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police:

Zero tolerance is less a crime-fighting strategy and more an attitude. It's about a community taking a stand against pervasive lawlessness that has negatively affected its quality of life. It's also about that same community establishing an effective partnership with law enforcement to bring about the changes needed to restore order.

If you accept the premise that zero tolerance is an attitude, then there is no question that it can absolutely work in Baltimore. The vast majority of Baltimore's citizens are hard-working, law-abiding people who have lived entirely too long behind the walls of their own homes, unable to enjoy the basic freedoms that they've worked so hard to realize.

No one, least of all excellent citizens such as these, should be forced to live this intolerable lifestyle. I believe that the mandate issued in the overwhelming election of Mayor Martin O'Malley was proof enough that a new attitude is necessary.

Call it zero tolerance, or anything else, and you still have the same response -- the citizens of Baltimore want change and are willing to work with the Police Department to see that it occurs. The only persons who need to fear a crackdown on crime are the criminals. A little fear in the hearts and minds of those who prey on innocent people is not necessarily a bad thing.

Loss of freedom

Jean Yarborough, president of the Park Heights Networking Community Council in Northwest Baltimore:

Zero tolerance I define as a loss of freedom for residents of this city. Zero tolerance means it doesn't tolerate anything.

I don't think it would work because this city has so many diverse cultures. I think it's too aggressive.

My alternative would be police and community working together -- having the Police Department held accountable for its actions and having the community held accountable for its actions. It [has] got to be a partnership where people are working to give the police information on the drug trade and where the police are willing to act on that information immediately and not wait 20 years. The problem where I live is the drug trade has gone on too long, and it's become entrenched.

Better than nothing

Rodney Evans, owner of Monumental Liquors and president of the Monument Street Merchants Association in East Baltimore: I don't know exactly what zero tolerance means. But I know that something is better than nothing, which is what we have had for the last 12 years. I would certainly be willing to give it a try.

Target everything

Edward Burns, former Baltimore homicide detective and co-author with David Simon of "The Corner," the story of west-side addicts that is the basis of the HBO miniseries:

The view I have of zero tolerance is that you don't tolerate anything in the neighborhood -- you go after the addict, the dealer, the gunslinger.

I don't think it's possible to do it in Baltimore. The numbers are too great. I don't see how you can go after the infrastructure of the drug trade -- the touts, the runners, the small dealers.

The alternative that makes sense to me is that I would go after the ones who are violent. I would try and change the culture of the corner.

I would think very seriously about doing a lot of work with very young children. That's the place to break the culture of the corner. I'd put a greater emphasis on social programs. Unfortunately, they don't show the kinds of immediate results politicians want.

Beyond the street

Shirleen Berry, victims' rights coordinator for the University of Maryland Department of Public Safety and coordinator of a conference last week at the Baltimore campus as part of National Victims' Rights Week:

Zero tolerance means there is no tolerance for any type of crime. That means violence on the street or in the home. Everyone is entitled to be in a safe environment at all times.

People are often afraid of the police rather than feeling that they are also a part of the community. If we could all work together on these basics -- the community working to help the police do their job and the police working to build trust in the community -- then zero tolerance will work. Victims of crime need to feel that they can report a crime to the police and that they will be treated with respect and dignity when they do so.

The proverb "it takes a village to raise a child" can also be used regarding zero tolerance because "it takes an entire village to make a city safe."

Search and sweep

Douglas Colbert, professor, University of Maryland School of Law:

With zero tolerance, we should expect a sharp increase in police stops, questioning, searches and "sweep" arrests of black men for alleged serious misconduct. Heightened misdemeanor law enforcement will feel like a tidal wave hit and flood an already overburdened court and pretrial detention system. The quality of justice will suffer dramatically as judges and lawyers struggle to avoid drowning in the volumes of new cases they are asked to process.

Zero tolerance depends upon speedy resolution of misdemeanor arrests. Arrestees must be offered incentives to accept immediate plea bargains. Unlike Baltimore, New York permits many arrestees charged with nuisance crimes to avoid criminal convictions. New York has also invested in providing many social service opportunities. Baltimore has too few diversion slots to offer substance abusers.

[An alternative] requires a change in police [officers'] relationships to the communities they serve. Many cities consider New York's aggressive policing and arrest policy counterintuitive to rebuilding communities and regaining citizens' trust.

Rather than applying a broad law enforcement brush, the Boston model of community policing is twofold. First, it requires police to work with communities and identify the relatively small percentages of people who engage in violent crime. Once identified, law enforcement offers a clear choice: Desist now or face the full brunt of prosecution. Second, instead of casting a broad law enforcement net, police demonstrate their stake in young people's future by working to assist many to obtain the social services they need.

Jaywalking to barking dogs

Carmen Nieves, executive director, Centro de la Communidad, a community organization serving the city's Spanish-speaking population:

I would define zero tolerance as any infringement on any law would not be permitted. That would include jaywalking, double-parking your car, or tying your barking dog up in your yard.

But I'm still a little confused. I think it's very confusing unless they clearly define crimes they won't permit. They could do a mass mailing. But how can people of other languages -- it's not only Spanish, but people from Kosovo, people from the former Soviet Union -- know what's not allowed?

I'm not sure, but I think zero tolerance would work up to a point. I think zero tolerance should be for crimes against people or property. If you hit someone, if you steal their car, if you throw a brick through a car window, that should not be allowed. Lock 'em up.

Insinuating absolutes

Erich March, vice president and general manager, March Funeral Homes:

First of all, as a death care provider, I'm in favor of anything that can reduce the violence and homicide rate.

On the surface, I don't think any law-abiding citizen would have a problem with the lawful arrest and prosecution of anyone who breaks the law. The problem I do have is that zero tolerance insinuates an absolute -- and in an absolute, if you're going to have zero tolerance applied to the situation, then you're going to have to have an absolute reliability that it's going to be applied with 100 percent accuracy. If you don't have the two working in tandem, then you have a faulty system.

If you use zero tolerance as it applies to the criminal element, who is going to apply zero tolerance to law enforcement? If zero tolerance is not enforced justly, it means the law enforcement community is breaking the law in terms of illegal harassment and profiling.

The alternative in my opinion is the use of the applicable laws and the constitutional protection under the law.

There's a law against standing on the corner selling drugs; there's not a law against standing on the corner.

'It has to work'

Douglas P. Munro, president of the Calvert Institute for Policy Research, a local conservative think tank:

[Zero tolerance is] a general theory of police work that does not relegate minor level misdemeanor stuff to the realm of being completely unimportant.

I do think it would work. More to the point, it has to work. Very clearly what [former Police Commissioner Thomas C.] Frazier was doing was extremely ineffective.

Crime in Baltimore cannot be discussed without mentioning race. Truth be told, this is the only reason zero tolerance is controversial at all.

The reality is that most of the people doing the dying are black. African-Americans make up about 90 percent of the annual roster of murder victims.

There is only a limited time for niceties. People are dying. Partly as a result, Baltimore, too, is dying as a viable entity.

If we as a city wish a comeback that has so long eluded us, then something akin to zero tolerance is our only option.

Rough, tough, brutal

Larry Young, morning talk show host on radio station WOLB-AM and former state senator:

Zero tolerance as I understand it means that you are rough, tough and have no qualms about being brutal.

I think that the community can accept rough, they can accept tough, but no community can accept rough, tough and brutal.

I believe we should go with a strengthened community policing concept -- strengthened by having additional officers put on the force with some additional sensitivity training and certainly getting back to the patrolman walking the beat.


J. Joseph Curran Jr., Maryland attorney general:

[Zero tolerance is] a problem-oriented strategy that invokes a level of accountability that permits all of us in the Baltimore community to enjoy to the fullest our homes, neighborhoods, parks, streets and schools. It is based on the premise that focusing on "quality of life" crimes that affect all of us has an effect on violent crimes, as well.

The policing strategy which Mayor O'Malley and acting Commissioner [Edward] Norris wish to implement has proven to be effective when utilized in other large cities.

It can work here is Baltimore, too, with the cooperation of all of the communities and city agencies, all working toward the same goal: a safer place to call home.

Mayor O'Malley's plan is the only serious alternative to the plague of violence that I have seen. It reforms the Police Department, involves the community at every step of the way by making the Police Department accessible and transparent and increases training and supervision.

'Martial law'

Constance Maddox, president of the Madison East End Improvement Association in East Baltimore:

Zero tolerance, martial law. To me, it would mean martial law on us.

I can't say it won't work. Cities like New York were successful, but where did the criminal activity go? Here in Baltimore.

I would have chosen someone from within the Police Department to be the new commissioner and have him utilize the officers he had to work with the citizens. [Reducing crime] can't be done without the people.

In the Eastern District in the last four years, we've had three commanders. Every time we get a plan together, they're pulling the commanders out of the neighborhood. They keep shaking us up.

Interviews were conducted by Sun reporter Eric Seigel.

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