Look but Don’t Touch!

It’s time to have an honest discussion regarding Stop & Frisk and Investigative Stops. When did this practice get a bad rap? Let me tell you when….when some Officers misused their powers and treated ever citizen they saw as a suspect without legal justification. Instead of addressing the behavior of the specific Officers, the weak leadership at BPD decided to stand down on this tactic. Now a subject of the DOJ Consent Decree, it’s easy to hide behind the order. So now BPD will manage their Officers in accordance with a legal document rather than holding Officers accountable for their behavior.


To illustrate my point, let me tell you a personal story. As a rookie with BPD, I was excited to work on New Year’s Eve. In Baltimore the tradition for some is to illegally shoot their guns to ring in the New Year! Back then, a BPD practice was to find a safe area to park, avoiding celebratory gunfire. I felt like a coward, sitting in my car, safely tucked away in a shopping center parking lot. As the shots rang out, I was told to stay put. “Barksdale, don’t even think about it!” As we sat on our hands, I thought of all the missed gun arrests!


Fast forward to my first New Year’s Eve as Sergeant. This time, I wasn’t going to be a coward and I was taking my entire squad into Cherry Hill – at midnight! I knew this area; I worked it as an Officer. The Southern District Sector 2 included (1) one of the most concentrated violent gang areas Cherry Hill, and (2) a powerful violent heroin organization in Westport that stemmed from the Timmirror Stanfield Organization. I knew we’d catch gang members and dealers by surprise – nobody had bothered them in the past.


I remember our pack of marked cars. When we hit Cherry Hill Road, we turned off our lights and sped into the area to stop the lookouts from warning the neighborhood of BPD presence. Once in, I immediately saw a known violent drug dealer showing signs of being armed. I was focused on him as my Officers zoomed past my car. I stopped him and while frisking, I felt a gun. As I went to grab the gun, it began descending his pants leg. I was trying to trap it with both hands as it continued to slide down his leg, and then BANG! The gun went off. I saw a bright red flash and felt something whiz past my head. I couldn’t hear, I didn’t know if I was shot. One of my Officers got control of the suspect, and I got the gun.


Simultaneously, I could see one of my Officers at the other end of the block. He had a suspect in custody, and was waving the suspect’s Tec 9 auto pistol the air. Some of my Officers were still pursuing suspects and I didn’t have an eye on them. Suddenly gun fire broke out across the neighborhood. Happy New Year! I called for my squad to retreat. “Sector 2 retreat. Retreat!” I yelled over the radio. I was proud of what we’d done in a very short amount of time. We were successful because we knew the community,  and the criminals that we were dealing with. I had everyone regroup at Harbor Hospital while I had my suspect checked for injuries.


Why do I tell this story? Stop and Frisk and Investigative Stops are some of the most effective proactive tactics an Officer can utilize, especially in a community suffering from street gun violence and open air drug dealing. The decision by DOJ to condemn these tactics in high crime areas is asinine. Drug dealers and armed suspects often run from the police and now they know they can’t be stopped! The oxymoron is that Commissioner Davis admits that drugs, gangs, and guns are the focus in Baltimore. But….how can an Officer focus on these areas if they are not allowed to engage in these practices and without full support from leadership? The answer is they simply can’t! Worse yet is that DOJ, SAO, and BPD command has Officers across the city scared of using these crime preventing, life saving tactics, even when legal. Nobody can deal with the scrutiny! Maybe Chicago is making the right move by no longer seeking a Consent Decree! The bottom line is that if these tactics are executed correctly, Baltimore will see a reduction in crime!


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