Stronger police effort promised Eastern commander plans to keep some outreach programs

August 21, 1996|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Promising an aggressive effort to "bring down the level of violence" in East Baltimore, the new police commander there vows to "get more out of our officers" through stepped-up community policing.

"To accomplish this, we're going to have to evaluate -- if we can -- the cause of some of the shootings and maybe redeploy some people, while at the time keeping some of the community outreach programs that are already in place," Maj. Wendell M. France said yesterday, making his first public comments since taking over Monday as commander of the Baltimore Police Department's Eastern District.

He was named to replace Maj. Odis L. Sistrunk Jr., a move that angered community leaders who liked Sistrunk and were upset that the department made the shift without consulting them.

Col. Ronald Daniel, chief of the Field Operations Bureau, said Monday that Sistrunk was transferred to his office downtown because the Eastern District has the city's highest homicide rate. The city has had 220 homicides this year, 48 from the Eastern District, according to police figures.

France will move from a behind-the-scenes position to become a front-line commander. A 26-year department veteran, he headed the Crimes Against Persons Division of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, overseeing homicide, robbery, sexual assault and child molestation cases.

"The detective bureau is basically a support bureau for patrol," France, 44, said during a telephone interview from Detroit, where he is attending a conference of the National Black Police Association. He is chairman of the group, which represents 35,000 officers in 35 states.

"They investigate everything from homicide to prostitution and gambling, but the initiation of any investigation has to start with the patrol bureau, so detectives have the luxury of coming in on a call after patrol officers have responded," he said of the detective bureau. "In the district, we're on the front lines dealing with everyday calls for service."

France grew up on the west side, in Edmondson Village, where four or five black police officers lived in the 1950s and '60s. They were role models, he said, who taught him their unique policing techniques, which evolved around an old African-American proverb: It takes a village to raise one child.

"I learned a lot from them about 'out of the box' programs -- programs that are not emphasized in the traditional approach to policing," France said. "They are the kinds of programs I hope to develop."

The goal of traditional policing, France said, is to respond to calls for service and "lock up the perpetrators." France said he would rather emphasize community policing, which focuses on problem-solving.

"It's clear from everything I've looked at that our homicides are not all street shootings," he said. "We have a serious increase in family-related homicides. You can't deal with those types of crimes through traditional policing. You have to deal with those issues through education and other programs that deal with quality-of-life issues.

"We're going to try to develop peer counseling programs in the community to deal with conflict resolution," he said. By teaching residents how to resolve problems, he said, "We can reduce the number of violent crimes that are committed." The Eastern District is the smallest of the nine police districts, yet it handles the largest volume of 911 calls, France said. "And until we deal with the violence in that district, it's going to be hard to do all of the other things we need to do.

"In the Eastern District, as in most of Baltimore, there are lots of kids who need mentors, who need direction, support and guidance. It's kind of difficult to talk about doing those kinds of things if you don't have a level playing field," he said, referring to reduced violence. "So, the bottom line is that we need to get more out of our officers, which is not to say they are doing a bad job. It simply means we need to take a different look at how things are being done."

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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