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.