A serious disconnect exists between Baltimore City’s criminal justice system and the public,” according to Colonel Frederick Bealefeld III, deputy commissioner of the Baltimore City Police Department.
It’s a problem that affects all components of the criminal justice system, including the police, the State’s Attorney’s Office, jurors and judges, Bealefeld told members of the GBC’s Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee at its March 15 meeting.
Current public perceptions are framed by a pervasive lack of trust among city residents in the criminal justice system. The public “doesn’t trust that justice will be done,” he said.
Victims of crimes, as well as witnesses don’t believe their testimony will make a difference to the judge and jury, Bealefeld said.
There has to be some economic or societal solution – increasing taxes to build more prisons or a money/mandate situation is not the answer. Everyone needs to work together, including government agencies, community, and business leaders, to confront the causes, and figure out how to fix the limitations in the criminal justice system, Bealefeld said.
Police efforts are also hampered by a shortage of resources. For example, the police department collaborates with federal officials on Project Exile, which calls for eligible gun crimes to be prosecuted in federal court, Bealefeld said. The department has only three firearm examiners, but it needs five to seven. The problem is recruiting for these positions when the city can only pay $54,000 per year, but the same job with the state starts at $74,000. Due to lack of resources, the department has a 6 to 8 month backlog on cases, he said.
The GBC committee members urged the Police Department to better educate the public and market themselves differently to begin breaking down stereotypes. The department needs to build goodwill with the public, Bealefeld said.
Despite a stubborn, chronic murder rate, total crime is down 13-percent in Baltimore from a year ago, said Bealefeld. Violent crime is down 18 percent, while robberies are down by nearly 20 percent. Most of the violent crime is gang or drug related, he said.
Arrests have also decreased since 2006 by 14-percent. “Significant strides have been made, yet if you ask anyone on the street, the perception would be that crime and arrests are both on the rise,” said Bealefeld. “The city is down in crime and we’ve made progress, but we have a lot further to go.”