Violence Surges as Baltimore Police Officers Feel Hesitant

Justin Fenton and Justin George, Baltimore Sun, May 8, 2015

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.

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“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.”

Lt. Victor Gearhart, a 33-year veteran who works in the Southern District, said residents with complaints about police “are going to get the police force they want, and God help them.”

Edward C. Jackson, a retired Baltimore police colonel who teaches at Baltimore City Community College, said he is worried about crime spiking if officers go into a “work slowdown” to avoid proactive police work.

“Baltimore can ill afford having cops do the bare minimum,” he said. “The bad guys are going to take advantage of a slowdown. It’s a terrible situation for the city to be in.”

The city has seen 40 shootings since April 28, the day after the city’s most intense day of rioting, including 10 on Thursday alone. There also have been 15 homicides in that span, bringing the year’s total to 82–20 more than at the same time last year.

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It remains to be seen how the tensions will affect relations between police and prosecutors, who must work together to build cases.

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