squeegee workers

Advice for Baltimore’s incoming state’s attorney (and others) on how to handle low-level crime

Anyone who lives or works in Baltimore is familiar with the “squeegee kids” who offer to clean car windshields for money at busy intersections. Some people, understandably, find the workers irritating, and their business model, which involves weaving through traffic, is dangerous. And rare but well-publicized instances of squeegee workers becoming aggressive have led to a new effort to ban the practice in certain parts of the city.

Some have called for an enforcement against the squeegee workers of a Baltimore City ordinance that makes “aggressive solicitation” a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Those charged with this minor crime have no right to a jury trial in Maryland, because the maximum statutory punishment is too low. This is also true for other low-level crimes, such as trespassing, malicious destruction of property, theft under $100 and driving without a license.

Prosecutorial philosophies differ on how to handle such low-level crimes. Proponents of “broken windows policing” argue that enforcement of low-level crime laws is necessary to maintain order in communities. On the other end of the spectrum, some “progressive prosecutors” decline to charge individuals with certain low-level offenses, arguing that such prosecutions saddle nonviolent offenders with damaging convictions, swell incarceration rates and do nothing to address the underlying causes of crime. Others, like incoming Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, espouse what sounds like a middle ground: Enforce low-level crime, but do it to connect offenders with diversity programs rather than to punish.

As a former public defender, I understand the pitfalls of this approach. An arrest triggers a good review, and even those released pending trial may spend a night or several days in jail. Any period of incarceration can have grave collateral consequences, ranging from the loss of a job to

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