Policing the hot spots Baltimore County: Intensifying law enforcement in crime-ridden areas makes sense.

March 07, 1997

THE START OF a new police strategy in Baltimore County -- hitting criminal "hot spots" with specially trained officers -- deserves community support and consideration by other police forces.

Every week, county police will determine which neighborhoods need extra patrols, then send in squads called "Community Action Teams."

The idea is not to arrest every petty miscreant; that would unduly tax courts, jails and police. CAT squads will work to reduce drunkenness, loitering and nuisances by interacting in some way with offenders -- through arrests, issuance of citations or simply by increased presence. But police are most interested in serious criminals, such as the armed robbers striking shops on Reisterstown Road or drug dealers who are destroying Essex neighborhoods.

Sending extra police to hot spots seems a matter of common sense. Nonetheless, some criminologists and others have BTC questioned the effectiveness. The usual criticism is that it merely forces troublemakers elsewhere; once the officers leave, the troublemakers return.

However, studies show that hot spot patrolling works. University of Maryland criminologist Lawrence W. Sherman concluded that "substantial increases in police patrol presence can indeed cause modest reductions in crime and more impressive reductions in disorder within high crime locations." He cited experiments in Minneapolis where doubling patrols in hot spots caused 6 to 13 percent fewer crime calls; nuisance problems were cut in half.

A similar program by the state police, Operation People, has helped crime-ridden neighborhoods in Annapolis and Prince George's County. In Annapolis, some complained that crime resumed when police left, but Operation People was never meant as a permanent solution. It is temporary relief until citizens and officials can plan long-lasting strategies.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants to expand Operation People, but the money may be better used for hot-spot patrolling by local departments. Operation People works great as a tool to give beleaguered communities time to catch their breath. But state police can only stay so long. Local departments can stay as long as necessary, returning if trouble does and following wherever it goes.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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