STANDING IN Baltimore Circuit Judge John M. Glynn's courtroom Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Glenn Marrow paused a second after the question was put to him.
"Do you think Central Booking would be less crowded if police stopped arresting people on jive humbles?"
"I can't comment on that," Marrow said. "All I can say is that my client is working toward a solution on this."
Marrow's client was the state Department of Public Safety, which runs the Central Booking facility. The "this" was the problem of suspects spending 48 to 72 hours in Central Booking before seeing a court commissioner.
Marrow was trying to explain to Glynn the reason for the delays. He suggested there are several government agencies that have "come up short" and are at fault.
I have a suggestion of my own: How about police abandon the use of the "jive humble" arrest as a policy?
A brief explanation of a "jive humble" is in order. It can be defined as a confluence of events which produce an outcome that never should have happened. The best example is from the 1969 movie Putney Swope, in which the token black guy on the board of directors of a white corporation is elected chairman because all the white guys voted for him when they thought no one else would.
Years ago, guys on Baltimore's streets would have, by definition, called an arrest for loitering a "humble." If it was anything like the circumstances that led to the arrest of Evan Howard, it might rise to the level of a "jive humble."
Howard, 18, graduated from Polytechnic Institute last year. He's a freshman engineering student at Morgan State University. Before last weekend, he had no criminal record. He does now.
Howard's mother, Nadean Paige, said her son came out of a corner store and greeted a friend when cops nabbed both for loitering. Police charging documents say Howard and another man were arrested only after repeatedly refusing police orders to move.
Who's telling the truth? Even if the police are, Howard's arrest still qualifies as a "humble." If Howard is telling the truth, it's a jive humble. And there's one thing Baltimore cops -- and Commissioner Leonard Hamm and Mayor Martin O'Malley -- should know. The reputation of Poly -- and its alumni -- is better than the reputation of the BPD. They can trust me on this.
How many "jive humble" arrests do Baltimore police make? We don't know all the circumstances of each arrest, so it's impossible to tell. But we do know how many cases the Baltimore state's attorney's office threw out in 2004.
Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, provided data for every month of 2004 showing the number of arrests made and those that prosecutors declined to prosecute. The highest was in January, when 35 percent of cases were declined. The lowest was August, with 27 percent. The average for the entire year was a little over 30 percent.
Cops know that when they arrest people on jive humble offenses like loitering or public urination that prosecutors aren't going to prosecute them. So why make them?
There might be situations where these arrests are effective. For that corner that's an open- air drug market, it might be useful to arrest, repeatedly, dealers and users for loitering or public urination. If it's done enough, it might force them to move elsewhere or quit the business. In a best-case scenario, it might inspire some to -- please, God, please -- leave Baltimore for good. Perhaps for the Eastern Shore, to take one of those jobs only immigrants will take.
That strategy assumes cops know who the chronic criminals and troublemakers are. Before Evan Howard was arrested, I thought that was the case. Now I know.
Baltimore police don't have a clue who the chronic criminals and troublemakers are. Not if they're making jive humble arrests, they don't.
Some of us sillies living in Baltimore thought the civil citation procedure was supposed to be used for nuisance crimes like loitering and public urination.
"No one has asked the question, 'Where are we on civil citations?'" Burns said. So I asked Matt Jablow, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.
"We still have them," Jablow said. "We've issued 176 so far this year." Jablow added that police issued 6,004 criminal citations, and that arrests declined substantially from 2003 to 2004 and are down 11 percent this year.
Then why are some folks still going to Central Booking for nuisance offenses?
"It's up to the discretion of the officer," Jablow said.
When guys like Evan Howard spend 56 hours in Central Booking, it's time to question how some police are using that discretion.