Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley talked about the release of the Department of Justice report on MSNBC's Morning Joe. (Courtesy video)
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley sidestepped questions Wednesday about his policing strategy during his time as mayor of Baltimore, a day after the U.S. Department of Justice delivered a blistering critique of the "zero tolerance" policies he adopted to quell spiraling violence in the city at the time.
"The report looked at the time period from 2010 forward," O'Malley said on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "I wish that they would look at the period before that. Because you cannot improve the effectiveness of policing in the United States of America without also taking actions to improve the policing of our police, the discipline of our police, the training and the recruitment. Those were all things that we did during my time."
The report, which the Justice Department will officially unveil today after a 14-month investigation following the death last year of Freddie Gray, in fact puts a good deal of blame for the current lack of trust between the community and police on more aggressive policing -- and specifically a higher rate of arrests for quality of life crimes -- that O'Malley championed.
"Starting in at least the late 1990s, however, city and [police] leadership responded to the city's challenges by encouraging 'zero tolerance' street enforcement that prioritized officers making large numbers of stops, searches, and arrests -- and often resorting to force -- with minimal training and insufficient oversight from supervisors or through other accountability structures," the report says. "These practices led to repeated violations of the constitutional and statutory rights, further eroding the community's trust in the police."
The 163-page report specifically points to 108,000 arrests made in 2005, most for nonviolent offenses. O'Malley was mayor from December of 1999 to January 2007, when he went on to serve two terms as governor. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination this year.
"From the beginning, some community members and policymakers questioned the value of the policy, arguing that it could lead to harassment of residents without an appreciable reduction in crime," the report continues. "Zero tolerance enforcement made police interaction a daily fact of life for some Baltimore residents and provoked widespread community disillusionment with BPD, as well as calls from activists, former police officers, and state officials to adopt new practices."
O'Malley has previously confronted the criticism, including from his successors at City Hall, with two lines of argument: One, violent crime fell precipitously in the city during his tenure. The city was facing an unusually large spike in homicides and leadership at the time seemed uncertain about how to address it. Two, he was reelected as mayor and won his two gubernatorial campaigns with large majorities of Baltimore voters.
O'Malley released a statement Wednesday evening offering more context.
"It is a shame that the DOJ review of policing in Baltimore chose not to look at the data and trends on enforcement levels, discourtesy, excessive force, and police involved shootings prior to 2010. Such a review would have shown reductions in each of [those] categories of police misconduct even as Baltimore closed down open air drug markets and achieved historic reductions in violent crime.
"Make no mistake about it -- enforcement levels rose when we started closing down the open air drug markets that had been plaguing our poorest neighborhoods for years," he said. "But after peaking in 2003, arrest levels declined as violent crime was driven down."