“As the number of shootings and homicides has surged in Baltimore, some police officers say they feel hesitant on the job under intense public scrutiny and in the wake of criminal charges against six officers in the Freddie Gray case,” baltimoresun.com reports. Now you could ascribe some of that reluctance to recalcitrance; the officers reckon they’ll be second-guessed by their superiors who are being second-guessed by the Department of Justice. And you’d be right. Although plenty of officers reckon their indicted co-workers are being railroaded in the Freddie Gray case, it’s not the homicide per se that’s causing their wariness. It’s the key question of probable cause . . .
Officers and legal experts said they are concerned about Mosby’s contention that Gray was falsely arrested. Mosby said that three officers failed to establish probable cause, as no crime had been committed. She said the knife Gray was carrying was not illegal under Maryland law, making the arrest “illegal.”
Former federal prosecutor Jason Weinstein, who held a leadership post in the Justice Department, said the remedy for failing to establish proper probable cause is that “a defendant goes free — not that an officer goes to jail.”
The result could have a “chilling effect” on officers, preventing them from making “good faith judgments” when making arrests, Weinstein said.
Jackson, the retired Baltimore police colonel, agreed.
“It’s very dangerous to say the intent is criminal if the officer is simply wrong about probable cause,” he said. “I don’t think the response to that should be a criminal indictment of the police officer. Cops make mistakes all the time with arrests about probable cause. They’re not lawyers. That’s why we have courts to determine if the probable cause was sufficient.”
Baltimore cops make mistakes “all the time” on probable cause? That sounds like probable cause to examine the BPD’s training and supervision. Still, point taken. The safest thing to do when someone in power’s judging your actions: don’t give them something to judge. Do nothing. Or at least nothing much.
“In 29 years, I’ve gone through some bad times, but I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Lt. Kenneth Butler, president of the Vanguard Justice Society, a group for black Baltimore police officers. Officers “feel as though the state’s attorney will hang them out to dry.”
Several officers said in interviews they are concerned crime could spike as officers are hesitant to do their jobs, and criminals sense opportunity. Butler, a shift commander in the Southern District, said his officers are expressing reluctance to go after crime.
“I’m hearing it from guys who were go-getters, who would go out here and get the guns and the bad guys and drugs. They’re hands-off now,” Butler said. “I’ve never seen so many dejected faces.
“Policing, as we once knew it, has changed.”
The question is, is that a good thing or a bad thing?