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Baltimore Citation Docket Off to Slow Start

When Baltimore's new state's attorney, Ivan Bates, announced that he would resume enforcement of petty offenses in a reversal of the policies of his predecessor, Marilyn Mosby, he said the goal was to avoid arrests and prosecutions, instead diverting defendants to community service and wraparound help. But the "citation docket" that began court hearings in July is off to a slow start, with nearly 25% of cases resulting in arrest warrants because people didn't show up for court, the Baltimore Sun reports. Though preliminary, the outcomes fuel critics' concerns that the policy will lead to unnecessary arrests and prosecutions that fail to reduce serious crimes while skewing against marginalized communities. “Bringing police back into the business of policing low-level offenses means, by definition, bringing them back into address poverty, mental health struggles, addiction, when we know that criminal justice intervention is not the most effective response to those challenges,” said Heather Warnken, director of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform. “We are creating unnecessary interactions and ongoing inequities.”

When he announced the new policy, Bates said his goal was to hold people accountable for "quality of life" offenses without necessarily prosecuting them. The district courts in East, South and West Baltimore each host a citation docket once a month. A review of the cases on the August dockets shows only a handful of cases were resolved through the alternative means that Bates predicted. Of the approximately 70 citations, nearly half were dismissed, many of them concerning citations for conducting business without a license. Some whose charges got dismissed were people whose cases were held over from July to give them an opportunity to complete community service. The courts’ community service program sends representatives to citation dockets to arrange opportunities for people to complete their hours. Bates’ office also is partnering with the nonprofit Helping Other People through Empowerment Inc. Known as HOPE, it provides employment, mental health and drug treatment resources. Baltimore police issued only five of the citations on August dockets. Their department is under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice that lays out guidelines for how officers address “quality-of-life crimes.” It says the “least intrusive” enforcement is the most appropriate option, with warnings and counseling preferable to citations, and citations preferable to arrests. A range of law enforcement agencies issued the citations that populated the dockets, including Amtrak Police; the Comptroller of Maryland’s Field Enforcement Bureau; the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Cannabis Commission of Maryland, and the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.


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