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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Community policing

As I was riding home from the train station today (in the sweltering, sweltering heat), I passed a police car stopped in the middle of Guilford Ave. There was a Razor scooter lying in the road in front of the cruiser, and the officer was speaking through the car's loudspeaker to a couple young boys sitting on front steps a few feet away. "DOES THAT BELONG TO YOU? THE SCOOTER IN THE STREET. DOES THE SCOOTER IN THE STREET BELONG TO EITHER OF YOU?" The boys were mostly just looking unsure of what they should do. But it was a sort of pathetic example of the poor state of police-community relations...if you're 10 and leave your scooter in the street, and some cop comes along and tries to talk with you/reprimand you through his freaking loudspeaker from a few feet away, that doesn't exactly build mutual trust and respect. I guess the officer probably didn't want to get out of his car because it was really damn hot. Still, a clueless bit of policing.

The Baltimore police department has some really obvious problems, like a recent instance of a suspect raped by officers while she was being detained at a station. But I think the broader problem is in how the department relates to citizens. For instance, they just installed some additional police cameras in the neighborhood south of us (right where I was riding through this afternoon). These are on lightpoles and supposedly allow the cops to keep an eye on things from afar; a blue strobe light on top lets people know that they shouldn't try anything funny. Come on. They can't possibly be very effective, and they're such a grim symbol of the emotional distance of the police and the degree to which they feel overwhelmed.

The police helicopter is another symptom. It's forever hovering overhead here because of the high-crime neighborhoods to our east; it makes a lot of noise, they shine their searchlight around at night, etc. I'm sure there are some things a copter is really helpful for, like when someone is fleeing arrest. But there's this sense of siege and fear that comes with having a police helicopter overhead that I don't think is worth the tradeoff. Plus, I know it's insanely expensive (especially since it's in the air ALL THE TIME), and that money could be put to better use on cops who are actually a human face, not just a "thukka-thukka-thukka."


lj said...

That's disgusting. I can't really think of much else to say... In theory, separated from the details of any particular case, I'm opposed to the death penalty. But a police officer who rapes someone (while on the job!)... I can't think of a punishment bad enough for that.

teague said...

Yeah, it's a pretty low low for a police department. I should probably add that the charges have not been proven in court, but it sounds to me like they have a pretty good case. There have actually been three separate incidents, two of which involved the same officer.