If you guessed Martin O’Malley — former Democratic presidential hopeful, Baltimore mayor, and Maryland governor — you are right. O’Malley incurred the wrath of the left during his unsuccessful presidential bid by daring to say “all lives matter.” Now, he’s advancing another proposition the left doesn’t want to hear: vigorous policing reduces crime.
O’Malley’s comments respond to a flawed Justice Department report that rips the Baltimore police department for alleged racist policing. I’ll have more to say about O’Malley’s push back in a moment, but first let’s take a look at the response of Baltimore’s current administration.
It is, as one would expect, craven. Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake — who last year wanted to give rioters “space to destroy” — hails the DOJ report. She says it creates a “crucial foundation” for allowing the city to change the police department.
By changing the police department, Rawlings-Blake means having the federal government tell the city how to police. According to the Washington Post, Baltimore plans to enter into a consent decree with the Justice Department — in other words, a court order, absent any litigation over Baltimore’s policing practices, that binds the city to police the way the feds want it to. This will mean, among other things, an end to the proactive policing of high crime neighborhoods that helped dramatically reduce crime in Baltimore (above which more below).
Baltimore’s new police commissioner Kevin Davis is on board. And why not? He serves at the pleasure of Rawlings-Blake and the liberal African-American who will succeed her. And he doesn’t want to take on the U.S. Department of Justice.
Anyway, Baltimore’s police force has already backed away from the kind of proactive policing DOJ wants to eliminate. The process began with the backlash that followed Freddy Gray’s death, the unwillingness of Rawlings-Blake to back the police, and the unjustified prosecution of six police officers by Marilyn Mosby.
Since the police backed off, violent crime in Baltimore, including murder, has soared. If the city would support its police force, officers presumably would again become a fairly effective presence in high crime neighborhoods.
But that support wasn’t forthcoming even before the DOJ issued its report. In any event, with the police force shrinking due to demoralization, it’s doubtful that that the force is capable of policing as proactively as before.
Now back to Martin O’Malley. As mayor of Baltimore (from late 1999 until early 2007), he implemented the “zero tolerance” policing that the Justice Department deplores. He did so in response to a major crime wave, which his policies helped reverse.
How does O’Malley respond to criticism of his policing policy? In two ways. First, he points out that violent crime dropped precipitously during his time as Baltimore’s mayor. Second, he notes that after he implemented zero tolerance policing, he was reelected mayor and then won two terms as governor with the overwhelming support of Baltimore voters.
How does O’Malley respond to the Justice Department’s report? Unapologetically:
Make no make mistake about it — enforcement levels rose when we started closing down the open air drug markets that had been plaguing our poorest neighborhoods for years. But after peaking in 2003, arrest levels declined as violent crime was driven down.
O’Malley focuses, naturally, on policing during his time as mayor, a period not included in the data DOJ relied. Did policing take a turn for the worse after O’Malley left office? Conceivably.
But if it did, the remedy would be to return to the practices — proactive policing coupled with training and other reforms — that prevailed under O’Malley. The remedy is not to back away from proactive policing in high crime neighborhoods just because blacks heavily populate them.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration isn’t focused on the effective policing of these high crime areas. It simply wants fewer blacks arrested.