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Audit: Police failing on crime settlement

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland says an independent audit shows the Baltimore Police Department is not living up to its end of a 2010 settlement designed to stem improper arrests for “quality of life” crimes.

The ACLU on Monday released the first audit since the lawsuit was settled in June 2010. The auditor looked at how the department had fared on 32 tasks agreed to in the settlement, including the officer’s ability to show there was probable cause for an arrest on a “quality of life” crimes.

On that score, the numbers indicate the department is faring poorly, said David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland.

The auditor looked at a random sample of 1,113 arrests that were made for offenses such as loitering, trespassing, public urination or disorderly conduct. In 17 percent of the cases — or an estimated 35 percent, if arrests that were later expunged cases are included — the officers did not justify making an arrest or articulate probable cause, the auditor found.

The audit found that the police department was in compliance or “materially” compliant with 33 of the 35 tasks laid out in the 2010 settlement. The bulk of those tasks related to policy or training changes, but the department did not comply with the measure of how officers justified making arrests for minor crimes.

“It simply misses the forest for the trees, because all of the tasks are not equally important,” said David Rocah. “Policies are important and it is helpful to have good practices but what matters is what officers are doing on the street.”

Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson said Monday that he had not had a chance yet to look at the auditor’s report. “But, I am surprised to hear that we are not, supposedly, in compliance,” Nilson said.

The lawsuit, filed in 2006, claimed officers with the lowest volume of arrests in each police district were subject to reassignment. The plaintiffs blamed the policy for the high percentage of arrests that did not result in charges.

According to the complaint, a third of all those arrested in 2005 — 25,293 of 76,497 people — were released without charges.

Rocah, who represented the plaintiffs — the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches and the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP, and 14 individuals —said the department is failing even more than is shown in the auditor’s report. He said the auditor included as being compliant, arrests made that began as quality of life arrests but in which a secondary crime emerged, for which probable cause was shown.

The report also indicates the numbers could be even lower than that because the city did not turn over 231 arrest records of people who were released without being charged.

The department did not turn over the records because they were required to expunge them under a state law that had been sponsored by the ACLU. The department told the auditor that, after expungement, the records were not available.

Rocah said that the records were available and that the department is required to keep them for a three-year period in case a lawsuit is filed.

“There is zero justification for them not to turn over those records and for them to say they’re not allowed to,” Rocah said. “It is pure, unadulterated nonsense.”

The auditor said many of the records not turned over were likely to be for the kinds of improper arrests that triggered the lawsuit in the first place. Including those numbers as noncompliant, the report read, brings the department from 83 percent compliant to 65 percent compliant.

The report also faulted the department for not completing a tracking database that was required under the agreement. While the auditor did not deem it to be in noncompliance since efforts are underway, a database to track each quality of life offense with information about the arresting officer and other tracking information was supposed to have been operational by Oct. 27, 2010.