Baltimore's Top Cop Disses The Wire


Last week Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld described the HBO series The Wire as a "smear on this city that will take decades to overcome." Shortly afterwards, Wire creator David Simon wrote a reply. Here's an excerpt:

Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III

Commissioner Bealefeld may not be comfortable with public dissent, or even a public critique of his agency. He may even believe that the recent decline in crime entitles him to denigrate as "stupid" or "slander" all prior dissent, as if the previous two decades of mismanagement in the Baltimore department had not happened and should not have been addressed by any act of storytelling, given that Baltimore is no longer among the most violent American cities, but merely a very violent one.

Others might reasonably argue, however that it is not sixty hours of The Wire that will require decades for our city to overcome, as the commissioner claims. A more lingering problem might be two decades of bad performance by a police agency more obsessed with statistics than substance, with appeasing political leadership rather than seriously addressing the roots of city violence, with shifting blame rather than taking responsibility. That is the police department we depicted in The Wire, give or take our depiction of some conscientious officers and supervisors. And that is an accurate depiction of the Baltimore department for much of the last twenty years, from the late 1980s, when cocaine hit and the drug corners blossomed, until recently, when [former Mayor Martin] O'Malley became governor and the pressure to clear those corners without regard to legality and to make crime disappear on paper finally gave way to some normalcy and, perhaps, some police work. Commissioner Bealefeld, who was present for much of that history, knows it as well as anyone associated with The Wire.

You should read the whole thing, which has some kind words for Bealefeld's record as commissioner along with the harsh words for his record as a TV critic.

I might as well add that I met Bealefeld before he was commissioner, first when he spoke to a neighborhood meeting in South Baltimore and then at another community event. While I didn't always agree with him, he struck me as a no-bullshit sort of guy—certainly far franker than the other city officials who sometimes showed up at those meetings—and not a man who was eager to defend the general state of affairs at his department. Now that he's running the place, he's tearing into a show with a similar no-bullshit approach. I'm sorry to see that, but I'm not surprised.

Elsewhere in Reason: I interviewed Simon back in 2004, and I wrote some more about The Wire a few years later. Radley Balko interviewed another Wire writer, Ed Burns, in 2008.