Zero tolerance for politics Fighting crime: Lessons from New York can be applied in Baltimore if people cooperate.

August 31, 1996

HOPE THAT ANYTHING fruitful would come out of a City Council trip to study New York City's successful "zero tolerance" anti-crime policy looked bleak when a skeptical Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier sent his own delegation to New York. But the situation became totally depressing after the leader of the council group, Martin O'Malley, came back to town with no plans to discuss with the chief what the council fact-finding team had found.

When it comes to combating crime, we expect city officials to cooperate, not play politics.

Is that possible? These days, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke seems eager to denigrate almost any idea that comes out of the City Council. He's grown accustomed to council members who care more about gaining political mileage than improving the city. Mr. O'Malley's ignoring the chief while trying to manipulate police policy surely confirmed the mayor's worst suspicions.

Yet there is much to discuss. If Mr. Frazier and Mr. O'Malley confer they will learn that both delegations to New York found out what they already knew: The cities are different but there are some approaches to fighting crime that can be effectively applied in either town.

Chief Frazier has already made improvements in the way his force operates, but he has not achieved the dramatic results seen in New York. That city is using procedures under its "zero tolerance" arrest policy that could be employed here in some fashion.

"Zero tolerance" doesn't mean New York police arrest every lawbreaker they catch. That would overtax its officers, its prosecutors, its courts and its jails -- as it would in Baltimore. In many cases officers issue citations for misdemeanors. That way, they interact with perpetrators of even the most minor crimes. They get to question them, find out who they are and whether they're wanted for another crime -- without first having to go through the hours-long booking process.

Mr. Frazier says he wants his officers to issue more citations. He and Mr. O'Malley should talk. They should also discuss what must be done at Central Booking, where it took seven hours to book a man accused of robbing retired Congressman Parren Mitchell. And they can discuss upgrading Baltimore's computerized crime data base. In New York, that has become an important tool to gauge police success in cases ranging from murder to public urination.

Pub Date: 8/31/96

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