Regionalism in blue Chiefs confer: Field Commanders Forum acknowledges shared problems of city, suburbs.

October 10, 1995

THE SCENE was as rare as a papal visit to Maryland: The mayor of Baltimore and the executives of the three largest surrounding counties addressing a joint gathering of the leadership of their police departments. Perhaps it wouldn't strike an outsider as amazing that these law enforcement professionals and political chieftans would break bread to discuss problems and solutions. But such a convergence had never occurred before last week in Ellicott City.

It was the first meeting of something called the Field Commanders Forum, involving police chiefs and district commanders from Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and executives Dutch Ruppersberger, John Gary and Charles Ecker of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties all attended to show their support. (Carroll and Harford counties don't have countywide police forces.) Greater Baltimore Committee Executive Director Donald P. Hutchinson recalled for the group a failed attempt to get area police together in the 1970s.

Back then, the city was still the figurative father of local government. Baltimore built the water system, airport and museums, and the suburbs tagged along. But the population and taxing power of the area has shifted -- and the relationship has changed. In 1970, the city held 44 percent of the region's residents. It's down to 28 percent. Meantime, the suburbs have grown up: Howard, which had 1/14th the city's population in 1970, will be half Baltimore's size by 2020.

Discussion about the future of Baltimore is often centered on how different the impoverished inner city is from its distant suburbs. But in some ways, the jurisdictions have never been more similar, as once-rural areas become more densely peopled. Drugs, a lack of discipline in the schools, the delivery of health care and solid waste disposal are challenges confronting the city and the suburbs.

The new multi-jurisdictional police initiative makes sense. If it works well, we hope the local governments continue backing the sessions, which took place thanks to private contributions. A task force of city and county police to fight car theft has already been effective. Perhaps the forum will produce other cross-boundary strategies to improve the quality of life throughout the region.

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