Annapolis Police: racial profiling or good police work?

| August 4, 2014 | 3 Comments
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Michael Pristoop

Annapolis Police Chief, Michael Pristoop

Over the past few weeks, many people were upset with the Annapolis Police Department as they worked to solve a robbery case. Part of their investigation led them to several young black males in the Clay Street community. Several were informally questioned and some were photographed. On the surface, it seems like a little bit of racial profiling. And many in the community called them out on it.  But was it?

Yesterday, the police announced the arrest of three individuals in connection with that case–one adult and two minors. While the case is still open, and there are more suspects to be rounded up, the Annapolis Police Department is to be commended on a job well done.

As with any investigation, you cannot fully explain what you are doing–no cases would ever get solved.  Unfortunately for the police, they were caught between a rock and a hard place and took some unnecessary (perhaps unjustified) criticism for their investigation.

On the surface

From outward appearances, it seemed like two victims said they were jumped by a gang of male black teens. The police response was to go to areas where there were black teens, photograph them and then (presumably) present them to the victims in a digital line-up to identify the culprits. As many residents pointed out to the City Council, all black males are not created the same. There are different complexions, mannerisms, and behaviors.  Certainly most black teens are law abiding; so the only plausible reason for the police questioning and photographs was to profile teens that “might be” less than law-abiding.

Now, photographing anyone (police or not) from a public venue is perfectly legal as long as you do not use extraordinary means to get the photo. We spoke with Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop who said that the interviews and photos were all taken in public places and done as discretely as possible. However, that did little to placate those who felt their rights were violated.

What we did not know

We spoke to Pristoop this morning and, with the arrests made, he explained the investigation. “The focus of the investigation was on Clay Street based on video evidence obtained from the crime scene.” According to the Chief, detectives, who viewed video that was recovered from the area of the robbery, saw individuals on Clay Street that fit the same  physical characteristics as those on the video. With this small break, police went to work to further identify the individuals responsible.

The City has a network of 25 cameras spanning from City Dock all the way to Westgate Circle. Footage is digitally recorded and, absent any investigations, will be re-written every thirty days.

Pristoop did say that the investigation led to the questioning and photographing of one minor who ultimately was not involved in the incident. We asked about that particular situation. The individual was a varsity athlete, working two jobs and doing community volunteering work. It was reported that the police “pulled him out of work” to question him and to take his photograph. According to police, a detective did make contact with the individual at a location where he was volunteering and asked him if he would be able to step outside to talk. The questioning and subsequent photograph was all voluntary and done with discretion. “Our officers are all very mindful of being polite and respectful to everyone,” said Pristoop.

We asked about the images that were taken of people who were cleared of any involvement. While there is no mandate or law that says that they need to be destroyed or deleted, Pristoop said  the photos are removed from the system as soon as possible when the individual is no longer deemed a suspect or person of interest.

Unfortunately for the police department, they needed to take a bunch of unwarranted flack for their investigation because they could not jeopardize it. Had they not followed up on the video evidence with the interviews, many may have accused them of not doing a thorough enough job.

Policing is confusing, dangerous, and difficult. It requires a lot of skill, training, and often luck. And in this case, there was no racial profiling going on–merely competent police officers doing a thorough, yet often thankless job.

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About the Author ()

John is the publisher and editor of Eye On Annapolis. As a resident and business owner in Anne Arundel County for more than 15 years, he realized that there was something missing in terms of community news--and Eye On Annapolis was born in late spring 2009. John's background is in the travel industry as a business owner, industry speaker, and travel writer. In terms of blogging and social media, he cut his teeth with MSNBC.com.
  • T

    The criticism did not come about all of a sudden nor did it come about strictly from this investigation, a long series of events leading up to and including this investigation that enraged citizens and parents alike.

    Make no mistake about it, policing is important and just because you bring attention to a problem that needs to be severely addressed does not meant that you our a certain community is against policing. It is a very dangerous thing to begin to lump incidents together and make blanket statements without knowing more about what you are saying.

    Officers have a job to do and we want then to do it, even still things need to be done in the proper way and yes without infringing on the rights of people no matter who they are or where they live. Procedures are in place for investigations for just that reason, you have suspects? Then take them to the station, contact their parents and do what you’re supposed to do. It is not illegal to photograph people in public but those same peoplealso have the right to refuse, to walk away and or hide themselves from your camera. When you threaten to arrest them because they refuse to allow you to take their photo, are become ares dive because they try to walk away you are over stepping your boundaries and are wrong, period.

    Everyone that lives in that area knows about the video cameras, it’s not news to them so there are no surprises with that.

    Those parents of those children who have been many of them threatened and harrassed unjustly are just as happy to have the offenders apprehended but that does not excuse what goes on on a REGULAR BASIS.

    There is not a “f*** the police” mentality here in Annapolis. Do not try to create one by attempting to pit citizens with legitimate complaints against a police department.

    Those concerned members of the community who were and still are upset about what has been happening do not owe anyone any apologies nor they wrong it addressing their issue just because The criticism did not come about all of a sudden nor did it come about strictly from this investigation, a long series of events leading up to and including this investigation that enraged citizens and parents alike.

    Make no mistake about it, policing is important and just because you bring attention to a problem that needs to be severely addressed does not meant that you our a certain community is against policing. It is a very dangerous thing to begin to lump incidents together and make blanket statements without knowing more about what you are saying.

    Officers have a job to do and we want then to do it, even still things need to be done in the proper way and yes without infringing on the rights of people no matter who they are or where they live. Procedures are in place for investigations for just that reason, you have suspects? Then take them to the station, contact their parents and do what you’re supposed to do. It is not illegal to photograph people in public but those same peoplealso have the right to refuse, to walk away and or hide themselves from your camera. When you threaten to arrest them because they refuse to allow you to take their photo, are become ares dive because they try to walk away you are over stepping your boundaries and are wrong, period.

    Everyone that lives in that area knows about the video cameras, it’s not news to them so there are no surprises with that.

    Those parents of those children who have been many of them threatened and harrassed unjustly are just as happy to have the offenders apprehended but that does not excuse what goes on on a REGULAR BASIS.

    There is not a “f*** the police” mentality here in Annapolis. Do not try to create one by attempting to pit citizens with legitimate complaints against a police department. That is not what is happening. They are not wrong nor do they have to apologize for addressing an ongoing issue that as mentioned before was only highlighted by this recent incident.

    “Informal interviews” or whatever you want to call them are wrong. What your basically saying is that we do not have to follow the law and that you are above it.

  • Uncle Gram

    Just because police say it’s good and made a successful arrest doesn’t mean that it’s not a violation of our rights. This is a department plagued with issues regarding race and even had an officer allegedly stalk and harass black teens. As a former Annapolis resident I find Chief Pristoop unable to handle his duty. After all this is a man who lied and provided false statements in a state legislative hearing. Let’s stop trying to make excuses for the government dissolving our rights and do our part by demanding more from those who serve us

  • Uncle Kracker

    Oh geez – why is it that any headline with the word “race” prompts comments from people who could normally care less? Don’t jump on the bandwagon here and pretend that you have been overtly oppressed for years while living in Annapolis. Oh, the shame and the horror of having the police stop and question people “who fit the description”.
    Also, let’s not forget, that area of town is not know for it’s highly educated, common-sense group of individuals.

    Bottom line, if the shoe fits…