UPDATE: On July 8th, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was fired by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake amid the continued violence and unrest in Baltimore.
Police stations in Baltimore will now be open 24/7, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The decision is said to be in response to an op-ed piece that appeared in the newspaper on July 6 detailing the mugging and subsequent lack of police assistance endured by citizen Connor Meek. According to Meek, after initially dialing 911, the dispatcher couldn’t pinpoint his location and instructed him to go to the police station, which, he says, is when things only got worse:
… a brash young officer opened [the door], and while chomping obnoxiously on a wad of gum and barring my entrance with his arm, he curtly informed me that the police station was closed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and was not the correct place to report a crime or come for assistance. I stood there for a moment trying to formulate a response to the only circumstance I hadn’t prepared for: The police station was closed. Closed. The police station.
Meek was eventually seated with a detective, who told Meek he couldn’t help because the crime had occurred out of his jurisdiction. So Meek was escorted to the right station, but to no avail: “We arrived and — lo and behold! —the Southern District Station was closed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The officer mentioned that this was because people ‘want to come in here and shoot us up.’”
It is unclear when and why the stations began observing these hours.
Community and police relations have been strained in Baltimore since the riots that occurred after Freddie Gray’s funeral on April 27, which Meek discussed in a subsequent interview: “It’s just hard to live in the city and pay taxes and buy a house next to the police station because you want that security, and then this is how they treat you. It’s just an us-versus-them mentality, police versus the citizens.”
The cop’s mention of those who “want to come in here and shoot us up” echoes the “police versus the citizens” battle Meek described. It also reflects what police have long insisted is the reason they have been making fewer arrests: they are afraid to do their jobs for fear of either legal or violent retaliation.
In a statement released at the end of May, the Baltimore police union said, “There is no respect. Police are under siege in every quarter. They are more afraid of going to jail for doing their jobs properly than they are of getting shot on duty.”
These fears, as well as those of the citizens of Baltimore, prompted Attorney General Loretta Lynch to help mend the relationship, visiting with Baltimore police as well as community members of Baltimore. She called the tension “one of the most challenging issues of our time.”
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby also met with police officials in an attempt to find solutions that worked for all parties involved.
However, two Baltimore police officers spoke anonymously with CNN last month and provided a very different explanation than fear for the decline in arrests, making the efforts of Lynch and Mosby in vain. According to one of the officers, “I think the public really, really sees that they asked for a softer, less aggressive police department, and we have given them that, and now they are realizing that their way of thinking does not work.”
This officer’s words confirmed that the department’s lack of accessibility was intentional. And the second officer confirmed this, even acknowledging the potential harm this strategy could be causing:
“Ultimately, it does a disservice to the law-abiding citizens. It does a disservice to the business owners. It does a disservice to everybody except the criminal element,” the second officer said about operating in reactive mode.
He denied the existence of a work slowdown but said he couldn’t promise proactive policing.
“Even though you have reasonable suspicion,” he said, “nine out of 10 times, that officer is going to keep on driving.”
What this and Meek’s story both reveal is that the police department has made themselves less available to the public to, essentially, prove a point to the citizens. It serves as a threat from the police to the citizens, jeopardizing the city’s well-being. Ultimately, the police are providing what they believe to be poetic justice, which is exactly the kind of criminal behavior it is their duty to stop.
However, city officials are less than pleased by this take on the matter, particularly City Councilman Ed Reisinger, who said, “This ain’t no damn restaurant. That is stupid with a capital ‘S.’ That jeopardizes public safety when you do that. What’s next the hospitals? The ambulances?”
Despite Meek’s police encounter, and the disturbing information the anonymous officers shared with CNN, Detective Jeremy Silbert, a police spokesperson, released a statement insisting, “We want to assure our communities the Baltimore Police Department is here to serve them and ensure their safety, regardless of the time of day.”
It remains to be seen if Silbert’s words will hold true in practice.