As crime soars in Baltimore, the police are partly to blame

The May arrest and crime numbers from Baltimore are in. They show that the police arrested fewer people than in any month for at least three years, despite a surge in homicides and shootings across the city.

According to the Baltimore Sun, arrests declined citywide by 43 percent from April to May. They dropped by more than half in the West Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested. Several neighborhoods saw declines of more than 90 percent.

Not surprisingly, unless you’re a certain kind of liberal, homicides and shootings have spiked. There were 42 homicides in Baltimore in May, the most in a month since 1990, according to the Sun. It was at the beginning of May that Marilyn Mosby announced charges against six officers involved with Gray.

The Sun finds a microcosm of Baltimore’s “law and order” problem at the 1100 block of Washington Blvd., just three blocks away from the B&O Railroad museum:

The block is a litter-strewn stretch of two-story brick and Formstone rowhouses. . . .It’s also a hotspot for crime, according to people who work there and police crime data.

In the past two months, the block and nearby streets have been the site of two homicides and multiple assaults, burglaries and larcenies. The most recent homicide was May 29, when Justin Mensuphu-Bey, 23, was fatally shot.

Yet total arrests in the neighborhood dropped from 21 in April to five in May — a 76 percent decline.

Arrests have plummeted because the police have cut way back on neighborhood patrolling. As a community activist put it:

We’re having robberies at the playground in broad daylight. All these murders and shootings, we’re having them in broad daylight. . . .

The cops are not standing on the corner. At North and Mount or North and Penn, you don’t see any police presence.

All these criminal acts are occurring because [criminals] noticed it. . . .That’s their job, to know what the police are doing. . . .

Or not doing.

Police officials acknowledge that officers have, in effect, undertakken a slowdown. According to the Sun, officials with the local police union say officers — aware of the charges filed in the Gray case — are hesitant to do their jobs.

The overcharging of police officers in the Gray case isn’t the force’s only legitimate grievance. Police officers were effectively ordered to take a battering from rioters and looters without being permitted to fight back. Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, seemed to put the rioters desire for space to destroy ahead of the safety of the city and its police force.

And now, the Justice Department is going to investigate the Baltimore police to determine, in its wisdom, whether the force has used abusive patterns and practices against residents. Here is another incentive to do as little policing as possible.

But the police force must share the blame for recent murder and violent crime spree. Policing is an inherently risking profession. One risk, though hardly the main one, is that if a prisoner dies while in your custody, you may face criminal charges.

When this occurs, officers deserve a fairer shake than Marilyn Mosby has provided. They do not deserve a Justice Department investigation.

But a police slowdown is not an acceptable response to the unholy trinity of Mosby, Rawlings-Blake, and Loretta Lynch. The duty of the police force remains the same no matter how objectionable the politicians become.

During the Boston police strike of 1919, Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge said: “There is no right to strike against the public peace by anybody, anywhere, any time.” Similar logic applies, I think, to a slowdown against the public peace. As long as officers draw their full wages, they should perform their full job.