Juvenile Arrest Numbers Indicate Return to Zero Tolerance

January 2, 2018
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By Baynard Woods

As part of an end-of-year PR push, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis wrote an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun acknowledging the problems the department faces while highlighting its reforms with a series of statistics. “Excessive force complaints are down 42 percent this year and were down 36 percent last year. Abusive language complaints are down 63 percent this year. Police-involved shootings are down 31 percent this year,” he wrote.

Davis presents himself as a reformer, but the department’s internal numbers paint a different picture. The Real News has obtained the BPD’s “Juvenile Arrest Report Executive Summary,” released within the department on Dec. 22, 2017, with numbers up through the end of November. The report shows BPD returning to the “zero tolerance” and “broken windows” policies that were roundly criticized by the 2016 Department of Justice report on the department.

The “legacy of zero-tolerance enforcement continues to drive its policing in certain Baltimore neighborhoods and leads to unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests,” the DOJ report read. The juvenile arrest report shows huge jumps in precisely this kind of arrest. While no juveniles were arrested for loitering in 2017, other discretionary charges saw considerable jumps. Misdemeanor burglary—a charge tied to either breaking and entering with no intent to steal, or being in “a yard, garden, or other area belonging to the dwelling or storehouse of another” with an intent to steal—is up 2300 percent. Only one juvenile was arrested in 2015 on misdemeanor burglary and another one in 2016. BPD officers charged 24 youths with the charge in 2017.

Likewise, in 2016, there were 24 juvenile arrests for trespassing. There were 55 in 2017, a 129 percent increase.

Other non-violent charges are also up. Gambling arrests jumped from 15 in 2016 to 39 in 2017. Police arrested 14 juveniles for possession of marijuana in both 2015 and 2016. In 2017, 29 juveniles were arrested on the same charge, more than a 100 percent increase. Only 11 youths were arrested for marijuana with intent to distribute, a more serious charge, in 2016. Police arrested 34 on the same charge in 2017, a 209 percent increase. African-American males account for all juvenile drug arrests in Nov. 2017.

“You might not think weed is something that we should charge people with but it’s the law and sometimes you have to use law’s leverage to go after young people who are continuously harming others,” said Baltimore Police spokesperson T.J. Smith. “And you talk about gambling, which, again, these are symptoms of the bigger problem.”

Smith argued that “juvenile arrests are up as well—carjacking, violent crime among juveniles are up.”

The BPD report actually shows that carjacking arrests are down 14 percent and armed carjacking arrests are down 17 percent. Assault and robbery arrests are down by 33 percent.

Among violent crimes, attempted murder is the big jump, with a 275 percent increase resulting from 30 attempted murder arrests—a number that is deeply concerning in light of the record-setting homicide rate. But other charges such as deadly weapon possession and assault and robbery are both down.

“There’s no concerted effort to arrest people for minor crimes but the operative word is crime,” Smith said.

There was police-fueled media frenzy about “youth crime” in October and November after a few violent incidents in primarily white neighborhoods.

“Although the police are talking about this wave of youth violence, that is not born out by the facts or by the truth, and that’s concerning to me,” Jenny Egan, a public defender in juvenile courts, told the Real News in November. “Why are we talking about youth violence or youth in these dehumanizing, fear-mongering ways when that’s not borne out by evidence?”

The report shows that this rhetoric may have led to an even bigger jump in discretionary arrests for minor crimes in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Officers arrested 26 youths for trespassing in Nov. 2017, as opposed to three during Nov. 2016. Every single one of the juveniles arrested for trespassing in November were Black, with 23 males and 3 females being charged.

This discretionary enforcement seems confined to the city’s poorer, largely Black neighborhoods, as the DOJ reported observed.

In the month of November 2017 officers in the Western District charged 15 juveniles with trespassing. Only 3 juveniles were arrested for trespassing in Nov. 2016, while 26 were charged with the same crime in Nov. 2017.

These neighborhoods also have the least resources. In a Sun op-ed, Councilman Bill Henry noted “that over the last generation or so, we have increased what we spend trying to deter and catch criminals by 200 percent, but we’ve only increased what we invest in the programs most likely to keep our children from becoming criminals in the first place by 27 percent.”

If “the City Council and the mayor were to divert $100 million of that [$500 million] police budget, we could meet 100 percent of the needs of kids who are at risk or currently have been found to be delinquent in Baltimore City,” Egan said.

Instead, in September, the state opened a new $35 million youth detention center in the city.

So, while the Commissioner deployed numbers that would paint a picture of a department muddling toward hope, the statistics reflected in the juvenile arrest report reveal a department desperate to seem like it’s doing something.