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Former Baltimore Mayor: Police Charges Send Signal On Arrest Standards


Kurt Schmoke is the former mayor of Baltimore. He's now the president of the University of Baltimore. He joins us from his home. Welcome to the program.

KURT SCHMOKE: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

MARTIN: Mr. Schmoke, before became you mayor of Baltimore, you were the state's attorney for the city, so you've got a unique perspective on what's been unfolding in Baltimore. You have dealt with racially tense prosecutions before. Let's talk about this past week and what it's meant for Baltimore, in particular the charges that Marilyn Mosby read out on Friday.


MARTIN: Police relations, as you know, have been strained; police-community relations in Baltimore have been strained in that city for years.

SCHMOKE: Well, in certain neighborhoods. I mean, I wouldn't say it's, you know, across-the-board. I mean, that's why in many of the cases that have been brought - I know I brought some cases against police officers when I was state's attorney way back in the 1980s, and very few of those actually led to guilty verdicts because of the diverse views of people about police in our city.

MARTIN: How did you see them? Do you see them as a way to rebuild trust? Do you...


MARTIN: Is it too early to make a determination because these are just charges?

SCHMOKE: Yeah. It's - I think the one thing that she did in charging, particularly talking about the illegality of the initial arrest of Freddie Gray, that she was just trying to send a signal to the police department that there are standards for probable cause to make an arrest, and just someone looking at you and running away does not meet a standard of probable cause. And unfortunately, what has happened over the last few years is that there's been kind of a blurring of the lines about when you can stop somebody and when you can actually arrest. And so all that I believe what she was doing in some of the charges was sending the signal that she wants the officers to go back to the standards that the Supreme Court has set for probable cause, and don't try to bend those standards or blur the lines.

MARTIN: You spent a lot of effort and a lot of money when you were the mayor of Baltimore in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood...


MARTIN: Which is the neighborhood Freddie Gray was from.

SCHMOKE: That's right.

MARTIN: When you look back at that effort, what worked and what didn't work?

SCHMOKE: Now, understand that I left office in December of 1999, so the question is - that I've been asking myself is - well, what happened between 1999 and 2015? Because what we did, we made investments in improved housing in that community. We made investments in the schools and recreation centers. So one of the things I believe that we have to look into more closely is did we just make a one-off investment that local government didn't sustain, or were we too overly ambitious in what we thought those changes could achieve? Those are the tough questions that have to be asked.

MARTIN: What kind of advice do you think you would give the mayor of Baltimore? Maybe you've already given it to her, but in terms of where the city is at in this moment, and how to go about moving this city, this community in particular...


MARTIN: How do you move it forward?

SCHMOKE: Well, just in a short run, I'd give her the same advice that a former mayor gave me in my - it was in my first year as mayor. You know, I'd been the district attorney - or state's attorney, sorry - works in somewhat secrecy. You know, you don't go out and ask community consensus about who to indict. So when I was in my first year as mayor, I was writing a lot of proclamations, doing a lot of policy. And the advice that former Mayor D'Alesandro said to me was, Kurt, you have to understand that the word mayor is a verb. And I said, what? And he said, yes, people have to see you mayor. You've got to be out there in the community. You've got to walk and touch people. They have to see that you're concerned about them. And then you can build policy from there when people trust you and like you and feel that you're doing right. So at this point, you know, the mayor has a pretty high credibility in the city generally. But in certain neighborhoods, that has been strained, and so she's just got to get back on the streets, talking to community leaders and young people and listening to them as she builds programs to improve their lives.

MARTIN: Kurt Schmoke is a former mayor of Baltimore. He's now the president of the University of Baltimore. Thanks so much for talking with us.

SCHMOKE: OK, take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.