Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Gov. Larry Hogan have been using statistics to blame the city’s judges for the city’s crime problem. When one digs into the data on which the statistics are based, though, as our Editorial Board has done, one finds the data actually shows something entirely different. The commissioner’s unfair and wrongheaded blame game, based on flawed statistics and even more flawed analysis, must stop.
The statistics were first used by Davis in June and then repeated by Hogan: between January 2016 and early July 2017, according to a police survey, 60 percent of criminals convicted of gun crimes get out of jail early as a result of suspended sentences. The flawed analysis? Davis blames the judges for this state of affairs and claims that the courts are letting bad guys run loose.
In response to requests by the media for the survey or the backup data for these allegations, the police released a table of 605 convictions to back Davis’s claims. The data reveal a different picture, however. While many of the sentences cited were, in fact, suspended, an examination of publicly available data from court records of a sample of 350 of the entries establishes that 90 percent of the sentences Davis blames the judges for are in fact the result of plea bargains or Alford pleas made between prosecutors and defense lawyers. This means that 90 percent of the cases cited by Davis had the sentences negotiated before the parties approached a judge. 90 percent.
Yet the commissioner, and now the governor, claim the judges, and only the judges, are responsible for the sentences imposed in each of these cases. That 90 percent of these cases were disposed of by plea bargains shows this claim to be hogwash. Davis knew this, or he should have, before he attacked the judges in the media. And the same holds true for Hogan. Other politicians should not follow.
At a time when the Baltimore Police Department needs every bit of credibility it can conjure up, the use by it of bogus statistics to attack the Judiciary as the cause of crime in this city is simply wrong and must not be tolerated. To be clear: we see the commissioner’s actions here to be far more than finger-pointing. We think they are dishonest.
Bluntly stated, what we have here is the police commissioner of a major city using false figures (or false interpretations of those figures) to blame our city’s judges for a crime catastrophe that is occurring under his watch. We find that reprehensible.
While the commissioner and the governor bark up this wrong tree, the cause of, or solution to, crime remains unaffected. Let’s put a stop to the posturing and the false accusations and get started on solving the real causes of the awful situation all of us are facing.
Editorial Advisory Board member Arthur F. Fergenson did not participate in this opinion.
James B. Astrachan is married to Baltimore City Circuit Judge Julie R. Rubin. The opinions expressed above are his own.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
John Bainbridge Jr.
Wesley D. Blakeslee
Arthur F. Fergenson
C. William Michaels
H. Mark Stichel
Ferrier R. Stillman
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the Board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the Bench, Bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, majority views and signed rebuttals will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.