Clarence H. "Du" Burns took his campaign for mayor to a West Baltimore neighborhood plagued by crime and tragedy yesterday and promised to make a strengthened Police Department his top priority.
"The first thing I'm going to do, the very first thing, is to put aside more money in the budget for police," Mr. Burns told a handful of members of the Rosemont Community Task Force who came out to greet him. "I hate to see people begging for what they ought to have."
Mr. Burns made his comments in the 1800 block of North Rosedale Street where Tiffany Smith, a second-grader three weeks shy of her 7th birthday, was caught in the cross fire of drug dealers engaged in a turf war. She was the one of two West Baltimore girls to be killed by gunfire this summer, and her murder sparked outrage among community leaders who called for a crackdown on drug violence.
Some of the Rosemont residents were particularly critical of police commissioner Edward V. Woods and other appointees of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who they said have been listless in responding to crime, drugs, vacant housing and other problems that besiege their neighborhood.
"The appointed officials don't seem to have an agenda, they just don't seem to know what to do," said Bernadette Devone, a Rosemont community organizer. "We hope anyone who gets into office will begin to address the issues of drugs and crime, will get these drug folks off our corners. We are very, very frustrated."
Mr. Burns told community leaders yesterday he would find ways to allocate more money from the city's roughly $2 billion budget to hire additional police officers.
He said one way might be to increase the police department budget by allocating a portion of the money from Urban Development Action Grants that were borrowed by private developers in prior years and are now being repayed.
Although federal UDAG program requires UDAG repayments to be funneled back into community development projects, Mr. Burns said he believed that he could persuade Washington to make an exception because of the soaring crime rate in Baltimore.
"Nobody has gone to Washington and said we need police more than we need development," Mr. Burns said. "We could do that."
This year, Mayor Schmoke included money for an additional 50 foot patrol officers in the city budget. But he has been criticized nonetheless because the police department remains understaffed by more than 100 officers.