David Simon, the creator of "The Wire," is charging that as mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley cooked the books in order to create the impression of a declining crime rate in Baltimore, and along the way created the mass anger that burst wide open this week.
"He destroyed police work in some real respects," Simon said in an interview with The Marshall Project. "Whatever was left of it when he took over the police department, if there were two bricks together that were the suggestion of an edifice that you could have called meaningful police work, he found a way to pull them apart."
His years as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and as producer of the hit HBO series, with its emphasis on Baltimore police work, have made Simon a sought-after commentator on violence that has rocked the city since the police killing of Freddie Gray, an unarmed 25-year-old black man. Many of the people protesting Gray's death have said they themselves have been unfairly targeted by city police in the past.
O'Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith defended O'Malley in a statement to HuffPost. "David Simon is a great fiction writer and television producer," Smith said. "But facts matter in a debate as serious as this -- many of his claims were already debunked by the Washington Post in 2006. Like everyone else, he's entitled to his opinion, but that doesn't mean it comports with the facts." The Post that year reported that "to date, no evidence has surfaced of a systemic manipulation of crime statistics."
Simon, who sits on the board of The Marshall Project, told the outfit's Bill Keller that O'Malley's political interference with the police department led to mass arrests designed to show falling crime rates. O'Malley served as mayor from 1999 to 2007 before becoming Maryland's governor and is a potential rival to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In 2010 the city agreed to a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union reforming police practices. The ACLU first sued in 2006 on behalf of 13 plaintiffs alleging a pattern wrongful arrests.
"O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation," Simon said. "And so there were people from City Hall who walked over [Police Commissioner Ed] Norris and made it clear to the district commanders that crime was going to fall by some astonishing rates. Eventually, Norris got fed up with the interference from City Hall and walked, and then more malleable police commissioners followed, until indeed, the crime rate fell dramatically."
Several local leaders have come to O'Malley's defense, including Robert Nowlin, head of the Pen Lucy foundation in Baltimore. "It was a different time and different tactics had to be used. At that time our city was getting out of control," Nowlin told NBC News. "We had zero tolerance and at that time we needed it."
Simon told The Marshall Project that it wasn't personal. "Everyone thinks I’ve got a hard-on for Marty because we battled over 'The Wire,' whether it was bad for the city, whether we'd be filming it in Baltimore. But it's been years, and I mean, that's over. I shook hands with him on the train last year and we buried it," he said.