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Retired 60-year veteran law enforcement officer Stephen Tabeling and award-winning investigative journalist Stephen Janis discuss the harm caused by unconstitutional policing practices and how “Zero Tolerance” in the 2000s lead to the wrongful arrests of tens of thousands of people under the Martin O’Malley administration (2/4)

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: As we continue our discussion on the roots of the toxic relationship between law enforcement and low-income and African-American communities here in Baltimore, we’re joined by two guests.

Stephen Tabeling is the co-author of You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths about Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. He’s a retired Baltimore City homicide lieutenant, also served as chief of police of Salisbury, Maryland. From 2000 to 2009, he was called out of retirement to teach at the police academy in Baltimore.

We’re joined by his co-author, Stephen Janis. He’s an award-winning investigative journalist currently working as an investigative producer for FOX45.

So, Stephen Janis, you did some of the first reporting on this policy in the 2000 under the then-mayor Martin O’Malley administration called zero tolerance, where you have the “Jump Out Boys” sweeping up entire neighborhoods of mostly black, low-income residents and throwing them into trucks and hauling them down to central booking. What was the impact of that? And the impact of that is still being felt today.

STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER, FOX45: I think, as we discussed before–this is at the root of some of the mistrust between the community, especially the African-American community, and the police department. I mean, you had a city of roughly the population of 600,000 processing 100,000 arrests per year. So that meant that almost–and, of course, [this is (?)] all based on the idea of the broken windows theory, which is that, you know, you have a window–which is an interesting metaphor in and of itself, right, because you’re talking about a building–you have a building with broken windows. You arrest people for the minor crimes, quality-of-life crimes, sitting on a stoop, walking down the sidewalk, and somehow it will improve the homicide rate. That was basically the premise, and that’s why then-mayor O’Malley felt this was a good policy, because he was very much fixated on the homicide rate.

But the result of that was that you had people, thousands of people being arrested. You talked about the “Jump Out Boys”. People [in their neighborhoods (?)] would tell me they’d be sitting on their stoops, the vans would come out, officers would jump out of the back and literally just guide them into the van. They hadn’t committed a crime, and/or they’d be sitting on their stoop, drinking a beer, which is perfectly legal down at Ravens’ stadium, but not legal if you live in East Baltimore.

So it was highly toxic racialized policing. I don’t think anybody–and, in fact, in the settlement with the ACLU, the Police Department admitted that they had targeted poor minority neighborhoods.

So this, this constant, one would say, abuse of the law created tremendous tension in the community and, I think, in a sense made the relationship between the Police Department and the community almost, I guess, in a sense, completely dysfunctional, because there was just the feeling that you couldn’t walk around a neighborhood. And I don’t think people realize the extent of it, because it was really focused–it wasn’t happening in Roland Park and it wasn’t happening in Federal Hill. It was happening in neighborhoods that had already–you know, were isolated socially and politically. And not only that, but it proved to be extremely ineffective and extremely costly. So I think it really set the stage for, later on, a continued, like, mistrust of the justice process, because the justice process was completely controverted by a policy that pretty much criminalized people for doing nothing.

NOOR: And, you note in the book, during this period the murder rate actually increased, and only after the policy was removed did the murder rate decrease.

JANIS: Absolutely. In 2007, then-mayor Sheila Dixon publicly reversed her policy, said that she would go to a targeted enforcement policy. And after that, the homicide rate continued to drop.

And I can say some current news right now. The homicide rate is expected to be around 202, 203–[not that you want to (?)] fixate on a number, but this year they’ve only arrested–I’m saying only–31,000 people. Now, in 2005, when they arrested 105,000 people, the [homicide rate was in the (?)] 230s, I think, 240s. I mean, it’s inexplicable. I mean, you can explain it, right? I mean, it doesn’t add up.

So, to me it wasn’t something that got a lot of publicity, but it showed, I think, the limits to the use of force and the use of law enforcement and the use of that in communities. It basically doesn’t return any dividends in terms of safety. And I think that’s the big issue, and, of course, you know, how it sort of [fomented (?)] tremendous distrust.

NOOR: And, Stephen Tabeling, one of the reasons you wrote your book is because you feel that law enforcement has lost sight of the law. Officers don’t understand the law. And by not applying it correctly, they are–it’s leading to these policies where illegal actions are happening, and that’s sewing this distrust with the community, and it’s giving–obviously, it’s giving officers a bad name and a bad reputation. And that’s one of the reasons why this relationship is so poor right now.­

LT. STEPHEN TABELING, FMR. CHIEF OF POLICE, SALISBURY, MD: Yes. That’s correct. And I don’t think policemen–not only in Baltimore City, but, I think, around the United States, are not properly legally trained.

I’ll give you an example of what Steve was talking about of the “Jump Boys”. In 1968, in a case called Terry v. Ohio from the United States Supreme Court, in a decision 8 to 1 in favor of police officers, what the justices said in that case was, if police officers have a reason to believe that someone is presently armed and dangerous, they can pat that person down based on articulable reasonable suspicion. And if they find a weapon, that person can be arrested. And that later went on to investigative detention. If you had that articulable suspicion that a person committed a crime, they could be detained. And the Supreme Court said, to have somebody detained and do an investigation on the street and maybe release them as a result of that is better than taking somebody in for the full booking.

What’s happened to the police departments: they’re not properly trained. They do not understand how you come up with this articulable reasonable suspicion. And there’s many ways that you can do it. The police are not properly trained in that. And if you’re not properly trained in the law, you’re going to make mistakes.

From my experience in the training academy and seeing people go out on the street and come back, people are interested in numbers–get numbers. That’s what it’s all about. That’s like if you make an arrest in a case and a person’s not convicted, that the case is gone. That’s what the fallacy in homicide arrests: what you should be after is convictions.

In the academy I did scenario-based training. And what I did was I took actual cases, took all the facts out of the cases, split the class up, and we had discussions. And we actually had time in the classes when I would set people [for suspicious so how (?)] to pat people down. I don’t really think any of that’s being done.

The best way to get those weapons off of the street is with Terry v. Ohio. Read the Supreme Court decision, what the justices said about the number, the number of guns that’s on the street now. But it has to be done with within the law.

My main contention is police officers do not know the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution, and based on that they can’t make practical decisions based on the law. We need more legal training.

When I was in the police academy, I had the only legal reference in the academy. I had LEXIS-NEXIS on my computer that I paid $125 a month out of my pocket, and there was not another legal book in the police academy.

JANIS: What Steve talks about is interesting, because what evolved during zero tolerance was an idea of officer discretion. And he’s talking about officers sort of being in control and being able to use discretion. But what happened during zero tolerance was officers were evaluated by the number of arrests. I did a lot of reporting on quotas. It was called arrest quotas. So, in other words, an officer was expected to go out there on a shift and make eight interests. And if they didn’t make eight arrests, they’d get transferred or their squad be–something would happen to them administratively.

And so the idea that an officer could go out and sort of construct this idea of reasonable articulable suspicion in this situation was kind of usurped by the idea that they had to their–their whole, the whole idea of policing was the end result of an arrest. Steve’s talking about convictions. In zero tolerance, it was just about bringing someone in.

And those quotas were used, really, I think, to change the culture of policing. And it resulted–it really came out of the idea that arrests somehow were a means to an end or somehow the best use of the process and somehow ensured safety. And that’s probably why the law was sort of not as important, because the law was about officer discretion. Zero tolerance was about you’d better make eight arrests [about (?)] quotas about this sort of turning the process into some sort of, like, industrial thing. You know, you’re going to make ten arrests or you’re going to get demoted or you’re not going to get overtime.

NOOR: And so this was all part of the politicization of policing and the police force.

TABELING: I had young officers that went out for training. After the police academy, they go out [incompr.] before to actually go out on their own. And I had an officer come back to me and said, I had a disturbing incident–and this happened a lot–had a lieutenant to tell me to go down to the corner and pat those people down. And I said to him, for what? And the lieutenant said, well, it’s numbers. We need numbers. We can get these people in here. And this officer said, I don’t think I want to do that. Well, he was in pretty bad shape for not wanting to do what the lieutenant told him. And they feel pressure. They feel pressure of what to do.

Look, this is just an example. I’m in the police academy, and we had a director in there (who will remain unnamed), and we were at roll call in the morning, and they said to me, Tabeling, I’ve got something for you. I said, well, that’s good. He said, when I was out on the street, if I see a car going down the street and there was four people in the backseat, I pulled that car over. Do you know why? I said, I have no idea. He said, well, they didn’t have seatbelts. And I said, okay. He said, when I pulled the car over, I got them out one at a time, I patted them down, and sit them on the curb. I said, you’re wrong. He said–I said, you’re wrong. You can’t do that. He said, that’s the problem. We’re getting guns off the street by doing that. I said, but you’re not making any convictions. His answer to me was, you worry too much.

JANIS: The entirety of the zero tolerance and the fixation on stats and the homicide rate, which I have argued is not always the best barometer of the communal health of a city, translated into this idea that the policing was no longer a process the law but, you know, a process of measuring something. [What they’re (?)] measuring they never talk about. But then-mayor Martin O’Malley was fixated on reducing–he promised to reduce the homicide rate. And I think he felt that if you applied some of the aspects of City-Stat, which was measuring things, and if you came up numbers and there was–I found documents that showed every district was measured by arrests. You know? And I think there was a complete fixation on the idea that incarcerating people, even temporarily, was better than doing the kind of policing that Stephen talks about and that we wrote about in his book.

And that is–you know, that’s a cultural political change. I mean, that’s a change in a country where you say the rights of the people are not important in that aspect in measuring the law, that the health of the community was completely discernible by the outcome of the process of policing. And I think you can see that in other [over in Iraq (?)]. You know, we have the surge. We’ve always had these ideas that somehow multiplying force will create some sort of favorable result. But I think if you go to the communities now that were targeted by zero tolerance, you see a lot of emptiness. You know? You see–so I think Steve is–.

NOOR: And you have a whole generation, you have whole committees with criminal records. And so they’re not going to be finding jobs, they’re not going to be able to return to the workforce.

JANIS: Absolutely.

NOOR: And they’re going to be reduced to a life of working outside of the legal economy.

TABELING: You can’t stop murder. Statistics around the country with murder are cyclical. All around the country now, maybe except for Chicago, murders are down. In the 1970s, we had a higher rate of crime than you have now. And if you look at statistics, you will see violent crime is down now better than it was in the 1970s. You can maybe prevent murders with good information and arresting people and taking people off the street on legitimate warrants that have the propensity for violence. You can do that. But for somebody to say you can stop murders, if a police chief can stop murders, he’s going to be a miracle man, and everybody in the country will want him. You can’t do it. It’s impossible to do.

NOOR: And what’s not being discussed in policing is addressing some of the root causes of what’s leading people down this path and this cycle of violence and drugs. And that’s actually the next thing I want to talk about. So I want to thank you both for joining us for this segment.

JANIS: Thank you.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Stephen Tabeling is the co-author of You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. Tabeling is a retired Baltimore City Homicide Lt., who also served on the police force for Salisbury, Maryland; from 2000-2009 he was called out of retirement to teach at the police academy in Baltimore.

Host & Producer
Stephen Janis is an award winning investigative reporter turned documentary filmmaker. His first feature film, The Friendliest Town was distributed by Gravitas Ventures and won an award of distinction from The Impact Doc Film Festival, and a humanitarian award from The Indie Film Fest. He is the co-host and creator of The Police Accountability Report on The Real News Network, which has received more than 10,000,000 views on YouTube. His work as a reporter has been featured on a variety of national shows including the Netflix reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, Dead of Night on Investigation Discovery Channel, Relentless on NBC, and Sins of the City on TV One.

He has co-authored several books on policing, corruption, and the root causes of violence including Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore and You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths about Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. He is also the co-host of the true crime podcast Land of the Unsolved. Prior to joining The Real News, Janis won three Capital Emmys for investigative series working as an investigative producer for WBFF. Follow him on Twitter.