Can Baltimore's SWAT units shut down the "squeegee kids?"

As if Baltimore doesn’t have enough problems on its hands, it seems that they’ve still been unable to get the epidemic of “squeegee kids” under control. In case you’re not familiar with this phenomenon, gangs of younger people (not all of whom are actually “children” by the way) show up at city intersections with traffic lights carrying buckets of presumably soapy water and squeegees. The deal is that if they run up to a stopped car that is trapped in traffic at the light and wash the windshield, they expect the driver to give them money.

The problems with this should be obvious and the city has made some efforts in the past to discourage this activity and find other things for the kids to do. But there are too many of them. Now the Baltimore PD is assigning more officers to clear them out and keep things under control, including the use of SWAT Team members if they are severely understaffed. This has some of the locals up in arms, assuming that heavily armed men in riot gear will be showing up to chase the little vandals away. (CBS Baltimore)

Baltimore police are patrolling the intersections where “squeegee kids” normally conduct business. Each police district is responsible for manning the intersections in their districts that are regularly used to conduct business.

If the district doesn’t have enough staff to man the corners, then bike patrol, traffic enforcement officers or SWAT will assist.

Late Friday, police called to inform WJZ that if SWAT officers are assigned to this detail, they would not be acting in a SWAT capacity.

As to the complaints being heard, I think the cops have made it pretty clear. SWAT Team members are only being used when the PD is stretched too thin and can’t cover all of the corners. And when that happens, they are not showing up in riot gear with heavy weapons. They’re wearing regular uniforms and just helping out the regular beat cops to cover all the action.

But maybe they should be a bit more heavily armed. As usual, the local news coverage doesn’t cover this situation very well, describing what these “kids” are doing as “conducting business.”

I wrote about this last winter and there’s a reason the police are needed on these corners. First of all, these kids are not “conducting business” and this isn’t a “job.” There is no customer requesting these services, or if there is, it’s rare in the extreme. They run up to the cars unbidden and just start slopping water on the windshield. And then most of them do not “ask” for money. They demand it.

If you don’t pony up, they frequently become abusive and threatening. Some of them have vandalized the cars of people who don’t want to pay. People have been attacked, particularly if they get out of their vehicle when it’s being damaged. One man named Jon Coles and his wife had their car vandalized and the couple was then attacked by multiple squeegee kids, causing injuries. No arrests were made.

This “business” is not a social justice project to help underprivileged kids. It wasn’t set up by any government agency. It’s an extortion racket that they dreamed up themselves and it’s been tolerated for too long. Don’t assume that tourists will keep coming back to the area if this is what they encounter every time they drive through town.