Arrests are down in Baltimore, but is quality up?

An old lawyer-friend stopped me on the sidewalk Tuesday and complained that Baltimore police are not being aggressive enough. I hear that a lot. We all do. We hear that the cops are not making enough arrests, and if we only went back to the Martin O’Malley method — 100,000 arrests per year — the city would not be in the third year of a homicidal surge.

To be sure, the numbers are down significantly from the days of the O’Malley ArrestFest. Taking a more targeted approach, toward violent repeat offenders, started after O’Malley became governor of Maryland and Sheila Dixon replaced him as mayor of Baltimore, and while Leonard Hamm and Fred Bealefeld served as police commissioners.


Fewer and better arrests became a trend long before the death of Freddie Gray and the unrest of April 2015.

And everyone should remember that the city’s lowest annual homicide total in 21st Century — 197 in 2011 — occurred during Bealefeld’s tenure and his focus on “bad guys with guns.”


As my newsroom colleague Luke Broadwater reported over the weekend, arrests have declined by 5 percent this year to their lowest level in at least four mayoral administrations. According to the city’s data, this year Baltimore police made 22,352 arrests through Nov. 25. During the same period in 2016 they had made 23,457 arrests.

Less than a month after declaring crime in her city "out of control," Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said a new initiative she launched is already showing results driving down violence.

Gun arrests, specifically, are down 25 percent — thanks, in large measure, to the indictments against Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force. The corruption of that unit has had far-reaching effects — the setback in efforts to rebuild public confidence and trust in the BPD and the tossing of dozens of prosecutions after Police Commissioner Kevin Davis had emphasized the importance of gun arrests to end the long surge.

A Baltimorean could easily get the impression that the BPD is in disarray — not enough officers, and not enough aggressive police action to round up bad guys with guns. The intervention of Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland State Police in the crime fight amplifies that impression.

But the story is not in statistics alone. We should not be looking at the number of arrests so much as the quality of arrests. From what I see, day to day, despite all the chaos and setbacks of the last few years, Baltimore police appear to be focused on “bad guys with guns.”

Timeline following the federal racketeering case of Baltimore's Gun Trace Task Force.

Unless you follow the BPD closely in social media, you probably miss the daily reports of arrests. But they come in all the time, sometimes hourly.

Let me list some of what Baltimore police reported in just the last few days:

  • On Tuesday around 1 p.m., detectives in the Warrant Apprehension Task Force arrested 35-year-old Daniel Green and charged him with the fatal shooting of Jon Hickey, the 31-year-old Baltimore County volunteer firefighter who lived in Upper Fells Point.
  • Same day around 3:20 p.m., the Western District Action Team chased down and arrested a suspected drug dealer and seized a loaded .32-caliber revolver and some prescription pain killers. Police said the suspect was a felon prohibited from possessing a gun.
  • Also on Tuesday, the Northwest District Action Team arrested a 21-year-old man from East Baltimore with a loaded handgun in the 500 block of Wheeler Avenue.
  • And one more from Tuesday: Detectives arrested a 37-year-old man and charged him with the attempted murder of a 32-year-old man who was shot in the the 4000 block of Frederick Avenue in April.
  • On Monday, detectives investigating a non-fatal shooting from late November arrested a 24-year-old man and charged him with attempted murder and assault.
  • Monday night, Central District Action Team officers stopped a vehicle for an equipment violation in the 1800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, discovered a loaded handgun, and ended up arresting a 23-year-old felon on multiple handgun violations.
  • On Sunday, robbery detectives arrested a 25-year-old man in connection with armed robberies of an ice cream store and a convenience store in Hampden.
  • On Saturday at 3 p.m., while conducting an investigation in the 900 block of Chase Street, Eastern District Action Team officers arrested a teenager with a loaded handgun.
  • On Friday, while investigating a crime in the 1600 block of N. Bond Street, Eastern District Action Team officers arrested a 34-year-old man with a loaded gun and drugs — another felon allegedly prohibited from being in possession of a firearm.

I post this “police blotter” because I was impressed with it. These reports come through every day, which means every day cops in Baltimore are doing their job, despite suspicions and assertions to the contrary.

Given the number of homicides — 985 in the last three years — we in the local news media are mostly focused on fatal shootings, and the commission of violent crimes generally. Because of time and space limitations, we don’t always tell you about the arrests that cops make. But they make them, and they appear to make some pretty good ones. It’s an uphill battle, but they regularly pull repeat offenders and guns off the street.

Do Baltimore cops make enough arrests? Is under 25,000 a year adequate? I don’t know the answer to that yet. But, given our experiences over the last two decades, and given the experiences of other cities and research on law enforcement practices, we should care more about who the police arrest, not how many.

Mourning a police detective, beleaguered Baltimoreans wonder when the city will get a break from violent crime.

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