Madeleine O'Neill//June 1, 2023
//June 1, 2023
Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates on Thursday announced a new citation initiative aimed at low-level quality-of-life offenses that were not being prosecuted under his predecessor.
The program will restart police interventions for these offenses, which include riding dirt bikes, drinking in public, loitering, panhandling and trespassing.
“We don’t have to take a hands-off approach when it comes to quality-of-life offenses,” said Bates, whose campaign for the job of top prosecutor included a promise to restore these enforcement efforts.
The citation program will offer defendants an opportunity to complete community service hours instead of being prosecuted for a first offense. Defendants will also be offered voluntary “wrap-around services,” such as drug treatment, educational resources and job training.
Those who receive a second citation will be offered increased community service hours and another chance to receive services. A third citation will result in prosecution.
Anyone who receives a citation in the city of Baltimore will be eligible for the program, even those who do not live in the city. Baltimore police, the Baltimore Sheriff’s Office, transit police, and officers with Morgan State University and the University of Maryland will be able to issue citations, Bates’s office said in a news release.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the department is pleased “to get back to the task of issuing citations for quality of life offenses such as trespassing, loitering, aggressive panhandling, drinking in public places and simple drug possession.”
“What this is not, and will not be, is mass incarceration or aggressive policing,” he said.
Bates’ predecessor, Marilyn Mosby, halted prosecution of these low-level offenses in an effort to reduce the city’s jail population during the pandemic. Mosby formalized the policy in 2021, the same year her office funded a Johns Hopkins study that found there were almost no re-arrests for more serious crimes after the nonprosecution policy was implemented.
Bates said he has heard from many residents of the city who say they want quality-of-life offenses to be enforced.
“We have to try something,” Bates said. “Let’s not make this about mass incarceration, let’s make this about the individuals that have the resources that they need. There’s got to be some accountability.”
The program already has opponents. Marguerite Lanaux, the district public defender for Baltimore City, said in a statement that the approach “is not true diversion,” which would occur before court involvement.
Focusing on minor offenses will disproportionately hurt people experiencing poverty, Black and brown city residents, and people with mental health concerns, Lanaux said. The citation docket will also force defendants to take time off work, find child care and create other obstacles by requiring a court appearance, she said.
“While charge by citation avoids the trauma of being arrested and booked, we are strongly opposed to the push to reinstitute charging citizens with these low level offenses,” she said.
“Not only does this approach fail to reduce violent crime, it has the potential to lead to police-citizens encounters that escalate to tragedies this city has experienced in the past, such as the death of Freddie Gray.”
Gray’s death from injuries sustained during an arrest by Baltimore police officers led to unrest across the city in 2015.
Offenses that fall under the new citation docket will include hacking, or offering taxi services without a license; thefts of up to $1,500; malicious destruction under $1,000; possession with intent to distribute cannabis; and simple drug possession. Possession of personal use amounts of cannabis will become legal in Maryland on July 1.
The citation list does not include prostitution, which fell under Mosby’s nonprosecution policy, because citations are not a permitted enforcement mechanism for that crime, Bates said. His office is continuing to examine how to handle crimes related to sex work, he said.
People who are cited will receive a court date in one of Baltimore’s district courts, where a prosecutor will offer them the option of community service hours and dismiss the case if the hours are completed by the defendant’s trial date.
To qualify for the citation docket, defendants must be 18 years old, have no pending charges for a crime of violence or handgun offense, and have no outstanding warrants. They also cannot be on parole or probation for a violent crime of gun offense.
Defendants who successfully complete the program will be able to expunge the citation from their record, Bates said. People who wish to contest their citation will have to accept a trial date and proceed with the case.