Baltimore cops on soaring crime rate: The public wanted a softer police force and now they've got it

The numbers don’t lie.


There were 23 homicides and 39 nonfatal shootings in Baltimore in May 2014. Through 29 days of May 2015, there were 42 homicides and 104 nonfatal shootings. Gulp.

Why are arrests down so sharply? Some cops may fear that criminals have turned more aggressive and confrontational after a year of high-profile allegations of police brutality, from the protests in Ferguson to the assassination of two officers in New York to the riots over Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Jack Dunphy, a cop himself, noted in a piece for PJM last month that crime rates are up in multiple major cities nationwide. Can’t be a coincidence. For other officers, it’s not fear of perps that drives them but of the DA: Watch towards the end of the clip below and you’ll hear Brooke Baldwin say some cops told her they’re more afraid of being charged by Marilyn Mosby if an arrest goes bad than they are of being killed in the line of duty. Even Baltimore’s police commissioner acknowledges that concern:

Batts has several explanations for what’s happening. One is a flood of prescription drugs on the street, being used for recreational purposes, that were looted from pharmacies during the April rioting. “There’s enough narcotics on the streets of Baltimore to keep it intoxicated for a year,” Batts said Wednesday. “That amount of drugs has thrown off the balance on the streets of Baltimore.” (This is, City Paper notes, a bit exaggerated.) Batts also said that officers have been patrolling in pairs rather than the normal solo beats, which effectively halves the number of patrols.

The FOP offers a bleaker, though related, rationale for the decrease in arrests: Officers are afraid, its leader says. On the one hand, they’re beset by hostile citizens who carefully monitor every arrest, crowding around officers who are just trying to do their jobs and capturing the detentions on camera, lest they turn into another Freddie Gray situation. On the other hand, police are also afraid a prosecutor will haul them in front of a jury. After Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six of their comrades with a range of offenses in Freddie Gray’s death, they say that they don’t know when they might be charged with a crime, just for doing their jobs.

Of these, the second concern seems more potent. “The criminals are taking advantage of the situation in Baltimore since the unrest,” said local FOP President Gene Ryan. “Criminals feel empowered now. There is no respect. Police are under siege in every quarter. They are more afraid of going to jail for doing their jobs properly than they are of getting shot on duty.”

For still other cops, there may be a “strike” attitude behind the slowdown to protest anti-police attitudes. They’re naturally loath to admit that they’d put the public at greater risk by stepping down law enforcement for political reasons (although NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton acknowledged a deliberate work stoppage earlier this year, at least for low-level offenses), but what one officer says here about giving the public the “softer” police force they think they want comes close to that. You can do things the way the cops want to do them or you can have anarchy. No third option. If you’re forced to choose between those two, with homicides nearly doubling overnight, the “correct” choice is a no-brainer.