Baptist ministers offer crime curbs with church role BY. Martin C. Evans

January 05, 1991

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke endorsed yesterday a set of potentially controversial, anti-crime recommendations offered by a group of Baptist ministers, including a proposal to require parolees to attend church and another that would invite ministers into public schools to promote anti-crime values.

"It is something that is affecting all of us, a new randomness, and we have to do something about it," Mayor Schmoke said, alluding to the jump in violent crime that pushed the number of city homicides from 262 in 1989 to 305 last year. "I'm just trying to get people to feel they are not helpless, and I think the ministers can help us."

The ministers, members of the United Baptist Missionary Convention and Auxiliaries Inc., pressed the five-point plan on Mr. Schmoke during a 45-minute meeting at City Hall. They urged the mayor to spark a national debate on crime similar to the one he created in 1988 with a call for drug decriminalization.

They also called for increased spending on summer jobs and recreation programs to divert children from crime, and for the appointment of a city "crime czar" to rally community and government support for anti-crime initiatives. The ministers said state tax reforms urged by a gubernatorial task force, the Linowes commission, would allow the city to pay for those jobs and recreational programs.

The most controversial aspects of the ministers' plan is likely to be the propose role of churches in the moral training of young people and the moral retraining of criminals. For example, the proposal to require parolees to attend church as a condition of their parole could bring a challenge from civil liberties groups.

Mr. Schmoke said that involving the group of ministers in public functions would not necessarily bridge the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

The ministers could speak in schools on values that are common throughout society, rather than ones linked with a specific religion, such as the value of life and the importance of parent-child bonding, he said.

"They have assured me they can talk about values without having to talk about any specific religion," Mr. Schmoke said.

But aides to the mayor said Mr. Schmoke expressed reservations over the appointment of a crime czar, saying that could undermine the powers of the police commissioner.

The Dec. 28 slaying of a Crofton man by two teen-agers as he was leaving his job in Charles Village led the mayor to vow last Monday to take a high-visibility stand against violent crime.

However, he has been vague about what he will do. He has spoken of increasing the number of police officers and pursuing more mandatory jail sentences as a way of deterring crime.

But church and community leaders believe that the focus should be on breaking the cycle of neglect, low expectations and low self-esteem that leads children to crime, rather than on punishment.

"Our thrust is not [about] building more jails, but is about reaching children and molding minds so they don't get caught up in violent crime," said Joseph L. Washington, a director of Baltimoreans Reducing All Violent Encounters.

The group, a project of the Associated Black Charities, is organizing programs to teach conflict resolution and to build self-esteem in children. "Severe punishment has not proven to be a deterrent to crime," said the Rev. Matthew L. Jones of the Concord Baptist Church on Liberty Heights Avenue.

"We're here to deliver a different message, of self-respect and self-esteem," Mr. Jones said. "We'll let the mayor and the judges deal with the other end of it."

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