But Baltimoreans in places like Gray’s neighborhood of Sandtown didn’t say they wanted no policing. NPR talked to West Baltimoreans who complained that calls they placed to 911 to complain about crimes have gone without any response—sometimes dozens of them.
Yet no one can pinpoint what exactly is behind the spike in crime and dive in arrests. Those residents and some civil-rights advocates think the police are intentionally backing off of enforcing crimes—like going on a strike, but not as radical. A slowdown would be to both punish citizens for lashing out against the police and also to create a sort of cautionary statement: This is what your streets will look like without cops. Is that really what you want?
A notable example of a police slowdown came in New York City early in the year, when cops—upset at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s implication of racism in policing—basically stopped arresting people. But the NYPD slowdown was notably different in several respects. First, and perhaps most importantly, the move was a tremendous propaganda failure. Crime actually fell during the slowdown, reducing arrests actually played into the mayor’s strategy, and public opinion swung against the police. The spike in crime in Baltimore looks very different. Second, NYPD officers were a little more open about what was happening. While no union declared a slowdown, the police commissioner acknowledged that’s what was going on and cracked down on it.
In Baltimore, neither the Fraternal Order of Police nor Police Commissioner Anthony Batts say there’s a slowdown. That’s notable because Batts and the FOP have, by and large, been at each others’ throats since the Gray protests.
Batts has several explanations for what’s happening. One is a flood of prescription drugs on the street, being used for recreational purposes, that were looted from pharmacies during the April rioting. "There's enough narcotics on the streets of Baltimore to keep it intoxicated for a year," Batts said Wednesday. "That amount of drugs has thrown off the balance on the streets of Baltimore." (This is, City Paper notes, a bit exaggerated.) Batts also said that officers have been patrolling in pairs rather than the normal solo beats, which effectively halves the number of patrols.
The FOP offers a bleaker, though related, rationale for the decrease in arrests: Officers are afraid, its leader says. On the one hand, they’re beset by hostile citizens who carefully monitor every arrest, crowding around officers who are just trying to do their jobs and capturing the detentions on camera, lest they turn into another Freddie Gray situation. On the other hand, police are also afraid a prosecutor will haul them in front of a jury. After Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six of their comrades with a range of offenses in Freddie Gray’s death, they say that they don’t know when they might be charged with a crime, just for doing their jobs.