THE WASHINGTON TIMES ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says Gov. Martin O'Malley is trying to remove oversight of the Baltimore Police Department, which they say engaged in overzealous arrests during his term as mayor.
The group has asked Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to deny a request by Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, that likely would remove the Baltimore prosecutor's ability to review arrests by city police.
A March 2006 grand jury report found an "overwhelming" number of arrests in the city compared with eight other Maryland jurisdictions. The state chapters of the ACLU and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a lawsuit against the city and Mr. O'Malley last year, purporting civil rights violations for the large number of city residents who were arrested but released without charge.
"Given all of that, it's hard to conceive of any other reason than this is the attempt to hide the evidence of the problem," said David Rocah, staff attorney for the Maryland ACLU.
Mr. O'Malley asked Mr. Gansler to examine his mayoral policy of having the Baltimore state's attorney's office review arrests before suspects are processed through the Central Booking Intake Facility.
"Public confidence in the criminal justice system is undermined when a person is arrested, then released with no determination of probable cause. ... Not to pursue a case is often confused with an alleged absence of probable cause, which is then spun as a supposed 'false arrest,' " Mr. O'Malley wrote in his letter to Mr. Gansler.
O'Malley spokesman Sasha Leonhardt said the governor "has asked the attorney general's office for a legal opinion as one of many steps to improve public safety throughout Baltimore and all of Maryland."
The ACLU said Mr. O'Malley appears to be cleaning up his record as mayor.
"Indeed it is precisely because the statistics maintained by the [state's attorney's office] have helped to shine a spotlight on improper police practices in Baltimore that Mayor Martin O'Malley previously called for removing the SAO from the charging process," Mr. Rocah wrote.
Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said it is logical that Mr. O'Malley would want to resolve the abnormally high number of arrests and subsequent lawsuit.
"It's a questionable mark on his record as mayor, and it's reasonable to think as a politician that he would want to address the record," Miss Burns said.
The grand jury last year found that the number of arrests — often for quality-of-life issues including trespassing and loitering — was inordinately high and that many arrests "bordered" on violating constitutional rights.
"The number of arrests in Baltimore City was overwhelming when compared to those in Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's, St. Mary's and Wicomico counties. Although [city police] are cognizant of this trend, it is unclear to the Grand Jury why citizens continue to be arrested in record numbers in comparison to other jurisdictions without being formally charged," the grand jury concluded.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Gansler said he has not set a deadline to issue an opinion on Mr. O'Malley's request.
"We have received the letter, and we are still reviewing it," said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.