Crime calls for Guard, Pica says City violence spurs lawmaker's proposal

August 28, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Declaring that "existing methods of fighting crime just aren't working," the chairman of Baltimore's state Senate delegation has drafted legislation that would allow the governor to deploy National Guardsmen and state police in areas where crime is out of control.

State Sen. John A. Pica Jr. said he intends to introduce the legislation during the 1993 session of the General Assembly because of the seemingly endless string of violence terrorizing people in some areas of the city.

"The problem grows with every shooting," Mr. Pica said yesterday. "Some may think this is a radical step, but the problem is very radical."

Mr. Pica plans to formally announce his legislative plans Monday at a noon news conference in front of the China Boy Restaurant, the Pen Lucy carryout where eight people were shot -- two fatally -- in a drive-by shooting Sunday.

Yesterday, Mr. Pica's idea was hooted down in City Hall and in the State House.

"Senator Pica has not run this by me, because he usually doenot run bad ideas by me," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said through a spokesman. "And on the face of it, this is a bad idea."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer also seemed opposed to the idea. "Strictly on the question of deploying the National Guard, he is opposed to it," said Page W. Boinest, a spokeswoman. "It sends the wrong message and it ends up scaring people. That outweighs any benefit it might bring."

In contrast to the tepid response it received in the halls of government, Mr. Pica's bill was greeted warmly by the Pen Lucy community association's president, who lives a half-block from the scene of Sunday's shooting.

"I think it is an outstanding idea," said Robert Nowlin Sr., president of the Pen Lucy Association Inc., estimating that he has heard gunshots "maybe twice a week" this summer. "This is just what the community needs."

Mr. Pica's proposed bill would establish a state commission charged with monitoring crime trends statewide and allocating grants to combat the problem. The bill also would call for a "workfare" program requiring welfare recipients in designated high-crime areas to take part in community beautification and neighborhood recreation programs.

It also proposes that inmates nearing the end of their sentences work on "anti-crime" efforts. "Quite frankly, I don't know if that piece is workable," Mr. Pica admitted. "But it is something we can look at."

Mr. Pica's legislation comes a month after the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, frustrated by the city's seeming inability to control crime, called for a discussion of imposing martial law in violence-plaqued areas of the city.

The led to a quick response from the national NAACP, which said martial law was a bad idea that flew in the face of the group's civil rights focus.

But the martial law idea prompted a raucous citywide meeting on crime. Mayor Schmoke subsequently took a more visible role in addressing the city's spiraling violent crime problem. The administration efforts included deployment of a police violent-crime task force and Mr. Schmoke's making high profile tours of crime-plagued neighborhoods. The mayor also has taken at least one-late-night ride in a police cruiser.

Mr. Pica said that he had expected his proposal would be frowned upon in some quarters, but that the crime problems in many areas of the city demanded drastic action.

"People are frustrated and scared," Mr. Pica said. "We have to do something to restore confidence and a sense of hope."

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