Policing in Baltimore: Past and Present

When I started with the Baltimore Police Department in the Eighties, I was assigned to work in diverse public housing projects (as depicted in the television series The Wire). Yes, there was tension between the police and some of Baltimore’s euphemistic “youths” but the average citizen, even in the projects, appreciated the security officers provided. One thing was clear: if you assault an officer or violently resist arrest hat resulted in a serious ass kicking or “wood shampoo” delivered by the police. Contrary to all the cell phone videos and lapel camera footage littering the Internet, this established a working peace in heavily patrolled areas. Paradoxically, it also reduced police-populace violence and rampant thuggery.

Case in point. I was working a stakeout detail at a fleabag hotel on Orleans Street in East Baltimore in order to arrest one of drug lord Anthony Grandison’s lieutenants. As luck would have it, the suspect tried to escape one of the rooms and fled right into my arms. As I put my hand on his upper arm in order to gain control while cuffing him, I felt that my extra large mitts would barely enclose his triceps. This cat was huge. After arresting him and transporting him (not seat belted in the back of a Paddy wagon … just like Saint Freddie Gray), I had a chance to talk with him in the station.

“Why didn’t you break me in half?” I asked.

“I probably could have taken you, but then I knew that twenty of you mtherf****s would kick my ass!”

In addition to not fighting me, he also left a .45 caliber pistol in the hotel room after unsuccessfully trying to flush it down a toilet. A genius this fellow was not, but he possessed the feral sense to avoid a beating.

Now, this is all gone in Baltimore. The prowling packs of youths now terrorize Baltimore’s once crown jewel, the Inner Harbor. Police have always known it as “Mondawmin by the Sea” after a notoriously horrific mall in Northwest Baltimore. But, it used to be safe until after dark. Now, anything goes apparently at any time of day.

As a born and raised Baltimorean, this slip into a Third World-like abyss is troubling. As a former BPD officer, it infuriates me to see everyone from the city’s politicians to the NFL blame police officers for this sorry state. The problem is six generations (sometimes ten) of fatherless children and dependency on “gubmint” cheese spawned by LBJ’s “Great Society.” This problem may be irreversible absent virtuous, strict and wise political and police leadership in Baltimore. I am not holding my breath.