The Blowback of Zero-Tolerance Policing
Former FBI agent Tyrone Powers responds to the indictment of six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray
STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, I’m reporting for The Real News Network in front of City Hall in Baltimore, Maryland. We are here shortly after State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby indicted six officers in the death of Freddie Gray. And we are talking to Tyrone Powers, a former FBI agent and also director of the school, Anne Arundel County, right?
TYRONE POWERS, FMR. FBI AGENT: Yeah, Homeland Security.
JANIS: Yes. So your reaction, just to the verdict. Or not to the verdict, but to the indictment?
POWERS: Well, I think the indictments was right, especially as she laid out the evidence in this particular case it made a lot of sense to me that they would be indicted. And that they, it would be sent to the justice system.
I guess the only surprising part about it is that usually when you have these kind of situations State’s Attorneys shy away. They’ll convene a grand jury, they’ll allow the grand jury to come up with the indictment and send it forward. But I guess–the courage she demonstrated in saying, look, on a prima facie case, this needs to go in front of a jury.
JANIS: Well, that’s what I was thinking about. You know, for years we’ve watched these cases unfold over 12 months, 6 months, special panels. And now suddenly within two weeks–what’s the difference now?
POWERS: Well, I just think it’s her approach. Because on the face of it there is enough there–I mean clearly, and she laid that out. She wanted to make it seem like she’s not just acting from an emotional standpoint. On the face of it there’s prima facie evidence to indict based on–and she laid out every specific minute, every specific second.
I think as she moves towards trial, she’ll even have more information. Because there are police officers who will believe that now that these officers have been charged that information will come out about past situations. They’ll start coming forward and providing her with any more information. I think actually from here forward she’ll actually have a stronger case than a weaker one.
JANIS: Well that’s a really good question. I mean, she has said the actual arrest itself was illegal. Did these officers even have probable cause to stop this man, or even chase him? From your perspective?
POWERS: Well, the courts have said that you can use that as reasonable suspicion. But the fact of the matter is, and these case–it happens all too many times. And what happens is that you chase someone, you physically hurt them, whether you just tackle them or throw them on the ground. And now you’ve got to justify that, so you come up with some charges. That’s why it was so difficult, if you recall the absence of a probable cause statement. We couldn’t see probable cause because the officers had to kind of conjure one up. And so when they get their reports, what happens in many of these cases is they make an arrest, the people are released, and then nobody says anything.
And this particular case, because you had an individual that was hurt, and fatally, eventually, the reports became glaring. The other thing is to look at is, where was the chain of command? Because these reports are supposed to be reviewed. And if there’s something missing in the report immediately the supervisor, whether it’s a sergeant or a lieutenant or a major, begin to ask questions. And you’ve got to fill in those gaps. Should be no statements without probable cause. Not just [IA], but the immediate supervisors in terms of a regular arrest and investigation.
JANIS: You were one of the few people I will say had the courage to talk about zero tolerance and say, you know, was not legal. And now we have reached a moment where it seems like that sort of strategy has really come under severe question. Is this the end of that kind of police policy?
POWERS: I would hope so. It’s always been a matter of political policing, and it’s been done not only here but across the nation. But of course here what you had was you had people who wanted to get elected, who wanted to get crime numbers down quickly with no regard for what the future held. They had no vision for the future and how this would create an antagonistic relationship. And eventually even if it had some success in the beginning, like a surge, eventually it would blow back and you would have more difficulty dealing with the particular community you would have this kind of incident.
And you could see it coming. It was almost like a gathering storm that we were heading to this day, and other days like it, based on those particular policies where you’re engaging people aggressively in a very negative way every day without probable cause.
JANIS: You were a police officer. You’ve done pretty much everything in law enforcement. What was zero tolerance, for people who don’t understand? What was it, in essence?
POWERS: Well, it was a misinterpretation of what was a criminal justice theory called broken windows syndrome. It said once a window is broken, if you don’t fix it then people will break other windows. That was the theory. Zero tolerance came out of that. And what it essentially said was make minor arrests before they become major arrests. It made no logical sense. And the theory didn’t even say that.
So in this particular city, then-mayor Martin O’Malley got Maple [in to] plan–had a plan put together out of New York based on the zero tolerance plan, implemented it in a city–and that city has 44,000 police officers, 3 million citizens. Implemented it in a city with 600,000 people. And it was never going to work here. It was only going to cause greater problems. And we said that from the very beginning. We said look, be careful with this, because this can only [incompr.] to a more antagonistic relationship between the police and the community. Which means instead of reducing crime, because citizens are not talking to police officers anymore, you’re actually increasing crime.
JANIS: Last question. You know, you have been through this whole cycle. How–is this an historic, like, watershed moment for policing in general in this community?
POWERS: I think so and I hope so. And I think it will be even more so if the Mayor allows the Police Commissioner to do his job. She brought in a, to me, a very competent police commissioner. Competent doesn’t mean that your competence is implemented. It has been restrained to this particular point. You know, three months ago we were talking about whether we need a commission to study body cameras when you had a commissioner who had already had body cameras. So what you say is, you go to your commissioner, say, should we have them? And if he does, you just go about the business of finding the money for them.
So if the Commissioner can draw a bright yellow line, then this can be a watershed moment. If he can say not only is not seating a person in the back of a paddy wagon is in violation, but also there will be consequences and repercussions–and I know from policing that you know what the rules and the policies are, but there’s never been a great deal of pain to pay for violating it. There’s been no consequences or repercussions. That’s the line he has to draw. He’s got general orders all over the place. It’s just there’s no consequences for violating those general orders. That could make it a watershed moment.
JANIS: Thank you Mr. Powers. We were talking to Tyrone Powers, a police expert, in the wake of the indictment of six officers in relation to the in-custody death of Freddie Gray.
My name is Stephen Janis, reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore. Thank you.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.