Chuck Jenkins and Frederick County’s crime wave

By the usual measure of police effectiveness, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office under the command of Chuck Jenkins has failed.

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The measure is simple, and it is one commonly taught in criminal justice classes. The test of police effectiveness is the absence of crime and disorder and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with those problems. In other words, if the crime rate is going up, the police work is poor no matter how many officers and patrol cars are on the beat and no matter how many people are arrested or locked up. If there is less crime, the police work is good.

That rule of thumb, in words very close to those, was laid down in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel. It was he who established London’s Metropolitan Police Force, nicknamed Scotland Yard for the street on which it was then situated.

To be sure, there are other factors that can push crime up or down, such as large demographic shifts or dramatic changes in social or economic conditions. But can those factors account for the extraordinary crime wave that struck Frederick County in 2013, boosting the rate of serious crime 23 percent in one year alone?

We’ll say more about our fair county shortly, but first it’s worthwhile knowing something about the history of professional policing.

What Peel established nearly 185 years ago was the concept of a trained, professional police department. Until 1829 British police forces were motley collections of men, sometimes themselves broken down and drunk, and others who simply liked to knock heads and bully the poor and disorderly.

Training didn’t matter much. It was thought to be “common sense” that there would always be bad guys—people who because of their impoverished economic status were naturally inclined to commit crime or simply to be disorderly and a public nuisance. The way to reduce crime in those days was to use brute force on the street and severe punishment handed down by a magistrate.

It didn’t work all that well. Crime in a rapidly growing London remained rampant.

Enter Robert Peel, who became Home Secretary in the United Kingdom in 1822. That post made him responsible for governing internal affairs in the U.K. He reported to the Prime Minister, a post he would gain a few years later. One of Peel’s great achievements was to reform Britain’s criminal code and to establish the Metropolitan Police. London’s new breed of policemen came to be nick-named bobbies from Robert Peel’s first name.

The overriding concept that shaped Peel’s police was that officers were citizens in uniform who policed by earning consent of other citizens. Peel taught that the police gained esteem by being transparent about their powers, by behaving ethically in the exercise of those powers and by being publicly accountable for their actions—proper or improper. By earning the respect of the public, Peel argued, the public would gain respect for the law and the law enforcers. Absolute impartiality in carrying out police powers was central. People in poverty or of low social class were to be treated with the same respect shown to the privileged. Police service was to be rendered to all by the same standard.

Many of the elements of Peel’s plan are part of the modern concept of “community policing,” a subject in which Karl Bickel, Jenkins’s challenger in the upcoming election, is a nationally recognized expert. “Sir Robert Peel,” says Kim Dine, the revered former chief of police in Frederick city and now chief of the U.S. Capitol Police in Washington, “he’s our idol.”

Another fan of Peel is William Bratton, the current police commissioner in New York City, for the second time. In the 1990s he took over the police force in a crime-ridden New York and launched several policies and practices that have been credited with making New York one of the safest big cities in the country. An example is the so-called broken windows policy. When police spot a building or car with broken windows, it is seen as the potential start of a vandalism epidemic. Repairing the windows quickly sends a message that discourages further vandalism and leads residents to have more respect for their neighborhood and for the police officers who take the time to get to know the neighborhood.

“Crime statistics [are] the Department’s bottom line, the best indicator of how police are doing, precinct by precinct and citywide,” Bratton wrote in a 1999 article for the National Institute of Justice, the in-house think tank of the U.S. Department of Justice. Elsewhere Bratton wrote that “crime reduction is to a police department what profit is to a private company—the bottom line.”

Peel’s principles, which include more than I’ve covered here, worked well. London’s crime rate plummeted and stayed low. Over time police departments in many other countries adopted what came to be called the nine Peelian principles. The ninth is the one I cited earlier—that the measure of a police agency’s effectiveness is the change in the crime rate—up or down.

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CRIME IN FREDERICK COUNTY

Which brings us back to Chuck Jenkins. The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for all of the county outside the cities of Frederick, Brunswick and Thurmont, which have their own police departments. Last year the rate of serious crime in the county soared 23 percent. In Frederick city, by contrast, it declined 7 percent. Clearly something was very different in one jurisdiction as compared to the other.

Let’s look at the numbers for the most recent five years, a period when Jenkins’s programs and policies should have been bearing fruit.

sheriffFrom 2009 through 2012 the number of serious crimes committed in his part of the county averaged 1,707 per year. This is a total of major property crimes plus crimes of violence (aggravated assault through rape and murder). It has fluctuated from a low of 1,604 to a high of 1,818. But last year the number of crimes leaped to 2,012—an increase of 18 percent above the previous four-year average. And since the number in 2012 dipped somewhat below the average, the most recent one-year increase in crime—from 2012 to 2013—was a whopping 23 percent. That is a crime wave if anything is.

You don’t need to know the history of Peelian policing principles to see that something is wrong with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Population growth during that 23 percent jump was just 1 percent. In other words the rate—the amount of crime per thousand people—spiked as well.

Given that something did cut the city’s crime rate, that means that something is very different in Frederick County’s beloved countryside than it is in the city.

The numbers for Jenkins’s entire time in office are as revealing. When he took control of crime prevention in the county in 2006 exactly 1,691 serious crimes were reported to his office. Over the course of his tenure serious crime grew by 19 percent, reaching a reported total in 2013 of 2,012 incidents. During the same period inside Frederick City the population grew faster—by about 12 percent—but the number of crimes was pushed down by 6 percent.

I say “pushed down” because crime is not something entirely out of the control of government agencies. As Robert Peel understood nearly two centuries ago, it can be made better or worse by what the police do.

So, while the City of Frederick’s Police Department was lowering the number of crimes even as the population grew, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office was doing the opposite–allowing crime to grow even though its population was expanding more slowly.

There is no mystery as to what was different between the two jurisdictions. While Sheriff Jenkins was cutting training for his deputies, Chief Dine was implementing a number of programs that are part of so-called community policing.

“Since 2002 true community policing became the way of doing business in the City of

Frederick,” Dine tells me. “We implemented a viable and articulated strategy and built trust and communication across the community. We partnered with the African-American community, the Latino community, the Muslim community, the deaf community, the business community, and LGBTQ community, and residents across the City. Everyone played a role in this strategy. The result not only included reduced crime but increased trust and communication with those we serve and groups who historically have needed us the most but perhaps trusted us the least. It works.”

That is pretty much the same approach Bickel is promising to deliver as sheriff.

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THE HEROIN EPIDEMIC

Sheriff Jenkins blames the recent increase in his jurisdiction on a rise in the number of heroin users stealing to support their habits. There clearly has been an increase in heroin use. In fact, public health authorities were sounding the alarm about a heroin epidemic in our area more than a year ago, and the warning signs were obvious before that.

One grisly measure is the number of heroin overdose deaths in the county. The first signs showed up in 2011 when ten people died of heroin overdoses in Frederick County, up from six the year before. In 2012 there were ten again. Clearly whatever happened in 2011 was still happening. But the situation became far worse in 2013—the number of fatalities more than doubled, to 21.

Still, however, Jenkins did nothing to address the crisis.

“I wish kids would realize how easy it would be to just stay away from this stuff,” he blithely told the Frederick News-Post a year ago. Instead of implementing any of the programs that other police departments have used, Jenkins said that combating heroin was the job of the school system: “Maybe we need to do more in terms of education, starting in middle school.”

A few weeks ago I asked Jenkins directly, in an e-mail to his personal account, what steps his agency has taken to deal with the heroin problem. During my interview with him a couple of months ago he told me I could follow up at any time. No reply.

Karl Bickel, by contrast, has been speaking out about this problem for many months. Earlier this year he began calling for sheriff’s deputies to be trained in the use of Narcan and equipped with doses. Narcan is a drug that can be sprayed into a victim’s nostrils to reverse a heroin overdose and save lives. After much prodding, a few deputies were trained and equipped. Jenkins promises that more will be trained. Eventually.

To prevent the problem from getting worse, Bickel says that as sheriff he would marshal resources in the county to attack the problem, the first step being to organize a “community crime and heroin summit” that would include “every segment of our community, police, corrections, public health, business, social services, prosecutors, judges, schools, parks and recreation, lawmakers, academics, politicians and more.”

Bickel says he would establish a “Community Crisis Command Center” that would use geomapping, real-time data and other resources to pinpoint places in the county where drug dealers and drug users cluster. Deputies and other resources would be focused on those areas, both to arrest dealers and to identify addicts and steer them into treatment programs. While Jenkins talks about education, Bickel says he would actually organize the effort to put educational programs in schools and that he knows where to get federal funding for the programs.

A number of other jurisdictions around the U.S. have begun similar programs, and Bickel says much can be learned from their experience. Getting addicts into treatment, he argues, prevents crimes they might have to commit to support their habit. As Robert Peel understood, preventing crime does more for public safety than does catching criminals.

The heroin problem is just one of several areas Bickel says he will attack as soon as he is on the job. Given the lack of a hint of a plan from the incumbent, Bickel’s plans come across as hopeful signs that we may gain a sheriff prepared to address our problems and to protect us from the harm that criminals do.

By the usual measure of police effectiveness, as I said at the outset, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office under the command of Chuck Jenkins has failed. Ask yourself (to borrow the phrasing of another campaign): Are you better off now than you were before? If you live in the City of Frederick, you are definitely safer. If you live in the unincorporated areas of the county, you are in more danger of suffering a serious criminal attack.

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ADDENDUM (Tuesday, September 30, 2014)

While Jenkins blames the crime wave on heroin users, he has actually been making fewer drug arrests. Either the illegal drug problem has gotten much better or the sheriff has been slacking off on going after the problem

Drug arrests by Frederick County Sheriff’s Office have dropping as the problem has increased, from more than 556 in 2007, which was Jenkins’ first year as Sheriff, to less than half that in 2012.

This is even more evidence that he has been slacking off on combatting the heroin epidemic.

Drug Arrests

2006 – 509
2007 – 556
2008 – 475
2009 – 497
2010 – 384
2011 – 312
2012 – 266

More: https://frederickcountymd.gov/index.aspx?NID=3716


Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins biography, as found on the county website (one page pdf file)

Chuck Jenkins for Sheriff website

Karl Bickel for Sheriff website

Karl Bickel for Sheriff on Facebook