The Crime Exchange

Mark Hughes in Baltimore: The trials of 'Baltimore's Boris'

In the latest instalment of our crime reporter's job-swap with his counterpart at 'The Baltimore Sun', the combustible relationship between politicians and the police force in the Maryland city comes under the microscope

Yesterday, the first female mayor of Baltimore, Sheila Dixon, went on trial accused of stealing gift cards meant for the poor and using them to fund lavish shopping trips. If convicted she faces up to 15 years in prison. For reasons of race and distrust of the police, not many people in Baltimore think a jury will convict her. But in a city where mayors have a history of dabbling all too readily in the world of policing, crime and punishment, it would certainly be ironic.

In Britain, it took only a word in the ear from Boris Johnson and Sir Ian Blair's three-year tenure as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was over. There was fury in some quarters; the notion that a politician could hire and fire police chiefs was unheard of. Yet in Baltimore it is the norm.

The world of politics and policing was vividly portrayed in The Wire when the drama's young, ambitious mayor, Tommy Carcetti, fired his police commissioner, Ervin Burrell. As is so often the case, it was an example of art imitating life. In Baltimore, the previous four police commissioners left office after falling foul of the city's political administration – one of them lasted just 57 days in the job.

It is an administration, I experienced at first hand during my trip. On my second day at The Baltimore Sun, a conversation with a newsroom colleague was interrupted by the kind of announcement that, given my status as a newcomer to the city, took me by surprise. "There's someone on the phone for you," I was told. "He's from the Mayor's office."

What followed was a conversation during which the Mayor's spokesman told me how disappointed he was with my story in the previous day's newspaper – one in which I had repeated the well-publicised view that city officials were none too keen on the portrayal of Baltimore in The Wire.

He went on to explain that, despite his disappointment, he was happy to help me with anything I may need for my research while in Baltimore. But that did not extend to an interview with the Mayor, Sheila Dixon. Both she and the Police Commissioner, Frederick H Bealefeld III, were "too busy" to speak during my stay. The police blamed scheduling issues. Privately, I was told that the fact my trip would again raise comparisons with a fictional detective series was the commissioner's reason for refusal. Ms Dixon's reason may have been similar, or linked to her upcoming court appearance. But the party line was that it was business as usual and while the Mayor was not keen to meet with me one on one, I was more than welcome to attend of the many public appearances she makes each day.

So just before 9am on Saturday morning, I arrived at a tree-planting ceremony at Dewees Park, in the north of the city. I told the Mayor's deputy spokesman that I would like to speak to her about the crime and other issues, such as drug dealing and poverty, I had witnessed during my visit. He took the message to her. "What does he want?" Ms Dixon, 55, was overheard asking her spokesman. She said she did not want to speak about crime and added: "I'm planting trees today." With that she got on her bicycle, rode to her people-carrier and was driven away.

By contrast, the Deputy Mayor of London Kit Malthouse and the Met's Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson – both of whom are uncomfortable with comparisons between London and Baltimore – were happy to be interviewed for this series.

Political interference in the British police hierarchy only really became an issue when, on his first day as chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Mayor, Boris Johnson, told Sir Ian Blair that his resignation as Met chief would be required. Previously, those who held the nation's most-senior police job were allowed to stay for the duration of their term, which was fixed at five years in 2008.

The issue has since mushroomed. In September, Mr Malthouse provoked consternation, as well as a mild rebuke from Sir Paul Stephenson, when he claimed that Scotland Yard had been seized by the Conservative Party and that Mr Johnson's administration was now in control of the country's biggest police force. Sir Paul immediately denied this was the case and reminded the public that the Met was apolitical.

In Baltimore, such political independence would perhaps be considered a luxury, as would similar longevity. Just a few months into her stint as Mayor in 2007, Ms Dixon told Leonard Hamm, who had been police commissioner for three years, that he would have to resign. It is believed a rising murder rate was the issue. Her swift dismissal seemed to work. Last year, the number of homicides in the city fell to a 20-year low and this year they are on course to fall again.

Mr Hamm should not have been surprised he was asked to leave. His initial appointment followed the departure of his predecessor Kevin Clark, who was sacked by the then mayor, Martin O'Malley, following accusations that he was involved in a domestic dispute with his fiancée. Clark had been commissioner for 21 months. The claims were not proven.

Ed Norris was the commissioner before that. He was the first man in more than a decade to see Baltimore's homicide rate drop below 300 killings per year. But he left after two years in the job amid rumours that he had fallen out with the city administration. He was later jailed for corruption and tax fraud. Then there was Ronald Daniel. Hired by Mayor O'Malley on 22 December 1999, he tendered his resignation just 57 days later – again amid rumours of political clashes with his superiors at City Hall.

During my exchange with Justin Fenton, it has been suggested that British police forces could provide a blueprint for American departments to work from. The UK is, after all, at the forefront of such developments as DNA technology and the use of closed-circuit television surveillance.

But, as illustrated by the sacking of Sir Ian Blair and the now infamous remarks by Kit Malthouse, one trend which seems to be moving across the Atlantic in the opposite direction is the political accountability of senior police officers.

Tell us what you think of crime in the UK. Email us your experiences at

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little