In reflecting on Baltimore’s particularly violent summer, Gov. Martin O’Malley decided to remind us all of the good old days under his tenure as mayor, when a policy of mass arrests (we’re talking one arrest for ever six residents in 2005) coincided with a sharp decline in violent crime, though not so much in homicides. But Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and others are poking holes in O’Malley’s idealized view of his own legacy.
At one “meeting of city crime fighters,” O’Malley pointed out that “half as many offenders were being arrested now, compared to ten years ago, and the city is now seeing drive-by shootings in broad daylight.” At another, he played a slideshow which made a link between fewer arrests and more violent crime.
Last Thursday, he implied that the city was “shrug[ging its] shoulders while lives are lost.”
That was too much for Rawlings-Blake. The mayor, regarding a push for “an arbitrary number of additional arrests,” said, “If it’s not targeted, … in some cases, we can do more damage than good.”
Others agreed. Staff attorney at the ACLU of Maryland David Rocah pointed out that a decline in the number of arrests post-O’Malley didn’t lead to more violent crime, as one would expect if there really is a simple cause-and-effect relationship.
Johns Hopkins professor Daniel Webster, who focuses on gun research, said that “more arrests don’t necessarily lead to fewer crimes.”
Councilman Brandon Scott pointed to 2011, a year of very low violent crime. “We didn’t have mass arrests,” Scott said.
O’Malley shot back with an opinion piece in the Sun on Tuesday, characterizing his critics as “ideologues on the left — who see all increases in arrests, police response or enforcement as bad.”
Rawlings-Blake said that under O’Malley’s “zero-tolerance” approach “communities felt like their kids were under siege.” And has promised that she will not be returning the city to such an era. And credits O’Malley’s comments with increasing “anxiety” among Baltimoreans. The governor’s spokeswoman responded by saying, “Governor O’Malley thinks that the best way to reduce anxiety among Baltimore residents is to make them safe.”
But given that “the arrest rate dropped along with the murder rate” after O’Malley left the mayoralty, can’t the governor admit that there is no simple relationship between arrests and violent crime? No? Oh, okay. Just checking.
Anyway, what’s Rawlings-Blake going to say next?
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