Extremely good interview with retiring Baltimore Police Commissioner
The Eldest passed along a very interesting interview Justin Fenton did with Baltimore’s retiring Police Commissioner Bealefeld, titled “Bealefeld on the “failed” drug war, “The Wire,” and Coldplay”, which ran in the Baltimore Sun. Well worth reading. From the interview:
Professionally, I think our war on drugs was failed. That doesn’t mean the people who tried to do it were failures. We worked our rear ends off, and we did some great cases. I just think that we didn’t get much resolved. We invested a lot of this country’s blood and resources and didn’t achieve the results. Developing real educational and job opportunities for somebody would have been much more meaningful in neighborhoods than some of the work we built into putting people in jail. That’s why I think it was so misguided. We wound up alienating a lot of folks in building this gigantic jail system in our country.
We’ve alienated a lot of people that we rely on to make communities safer. As far as decriminalizing, one of the standards of our “Diamond Standard” training was being diplomatic. I always hope that our guys could differentiate between the value of taking a violent offender off the streets and some 16-year-old kid with a bag of weed in his pocket. To me, those two arrests are dramatically different. They don’t score as just one. They’re dramatically different. I’d hope that people understood that. As a society, that’s for us to cast our votes on. That’s a societal issue.
At the end of the day, my job is to figure out strategies to keep you safe. It’s not to fight the state legislature and say ‘I don’t believe in that law or this law.’ If you pass the law, I am legally bound to enforce it. But I have limited enforcement capabilities. I know jaywalking’s a crime and I know littering’s a crime. And I know running red lights is a crime. But I still have to get down to prioritizing what I want people to focus on first.
Go out and ask these cops today, ‘Did you ever get a letter from the commissioner – a commendatory letter?’ If they answer yes, ask them what it was for. The past five years, I’ve sent out commendatory letters for gun arrests. I grew up – I have stacks of photos and CDs of us celebrating drug seizures, standing behind piles of dope and cash. The last five years, I’ve recognized getting guns from bad guys off the streets. Do that, you get a letter from me. … It’s what you prioritize.
I think that was a much better use under my tenure of our resources than trying to win the war on drugs in our city. The vast majority of our arrests are still drug arrests, because we get the vast majority of calls for drug offenses. But in terms of what we celebrate and focus on day in and day out, they love getting guns now. They love it.
His comments on The Wire and the homicide rate. Interesting interview when read in connection with this blog post by David Simon (a former Baltimore Sun reporter who created The Wire) about the compilation of statistics.