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Access to information, and police policy

Posted by justinfenton
  • Tuesday, 10 November 2009 at 12:07 am
Just hours before I arrived in the London neighborhood of Kentish Town on Thursday, a transgender prostitute named Destiny Lauren was found dead in a front yard a few streets away from where I was staying. But the news wouldn't spread until today, when police announced that an unidentified man had been jailed "in connection" with the crime and released on bail.

The police here typically wait until an arrest has been made, or until they're stuck and need the public's help, to publicize major crimes. One press officer told me that informing the public about the crime in their neighborhood would lead to irrational fear and that they should only know about crimes when police need to get the information out. I can't tell you how many times a crime falls through the cracks in Baltimore and we get flak from people accusing us of covering things up for police. People demand to know what is happening in their neighborhood, and the backlash is swift when officials fail to inform the community about a major incident.

As far as the process when someone is arrested, there are some interesting differences. First off, you can be arrested merely for suspicion of a crime and placed on "police bail", in which police can impose restrictions on the suspects while they work to investigate the crime. After a suspect is booked, their fingerprints are taken and an officer takes a swab for their DNA, which is logged into a database. This is different from the process in Maryland, where until recently DNA was only collected upon conviction and which currently occurs only when someone is charged with a violent crime. Those who are charged are placed in their own private cell, which has a door for privacy and a toilet, and they are drug tested. If they fail the drug test, they are hooked up with a drug counselor and can be required to attend drug counseling while they are out on bail. The only time the criminal justice system can impose such requirements in Maryland is upon a conviction, at least in my experience.

Off to do a radio interview. Spent today with a homicide squad in the throes of a new case, and will be blogging about it whenever I get the chance.


Heard you on Radio 4 this morning
lourd_baltimore wrote:
Tuesday, 10 November 2009 at 11:54 am (UTC)

I heard you and Mark Hughes this morning on BBC Radio 4. My wife and I are ex-pats who used to live in Charm City. When we first heard the UK Shadow Secretary's comments that parts of the UK were like The Wire we both laughed and groaned at the comparison. We also laugh when we go somewhere in the UK and we're told to be careful because it's the "bad part of town." However, like the comments told on Radio 4, I agree that it's all a matter of perspective. Crime, no matter the level of background violence, takes its tool on the victims, perps, families, and environment regardless of the sensational headlines or nominal homicide rate. I think its really cool that you get to participate in this exchange and it sounds like a really interesting learning experience. Will there be a follow-up piece in the Baltimore Sun when the exchange ends?
We're going to visit some friends in Baltimore over the holidays. The city grows on you. We miss it at times and can't wait to see how things are with an ex-pat perspective.