Baltimore criminal justice leaders criticized Report states need to support zero tolerance against all offenders

September 23, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Despite a recent drop in crime, the city's criminal justice leaders have failed to do enough to make streets safe and stem the violence that makes Baltimore one of the nation's most dangerous cities, says a new report to be issued today.

Northeast Baltimore Councilman Martin O'Malley charged in a yearlong assessment by the council's Legislative Investigations Committee that the city's crime strategy is failing because the state's attorney, District Court judges, the police commissioner and the mayor are refusing to work together to implement zero tolerance. The committee, headed by O'Malley, wants the city to adopt the same crime strategy used in New York City, where crime has dropped dramatically. Last year, the committee went to New York City to study the zero tolerance policy.

With this report, O'Malley said, "we are going to try to drag all the various parties toward creating a criminal justice system that works."

In a report to be released today, O'Malley, chief of the Legislative Investigations Committee, charges that State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy doesn't have a clear strategy for stopping repeat violent offenders.

He also charges that Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier is not backing his own program to stop nuisance crime offenders. And he criticizes District Court Administrative Judge Mary Ellen T. Rinehardt for refusing to allow judges to be inside the city's Central Booking and Intake Center. O'Malley said a judge there would speed cases through the system.

"While some modest, though disjointed, progress has been made, the committee is disappointed that one year after the traveling to New York with a delegation we have made such very slow progress," O'Malley said.

According to police statistics covering the first six months of 1997, overall crime in Baltimore has dropped. Violent crime dropped by 7.5 percent and property crime dropped by 11.5 percent. But assaults, including shootings, increased by 3.4 percent.

Until last year, Baltimore had been bucking a national trend of crime reduction. City crime had soared 40 percent since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke took office in 1987.

That changed in 1996 when police reported a 9.3 percent decrease in violent crime from 1995. In April, police released statistics that showed further reductions, including a 20 percent drop in violent crime.

The Baltimore crime rate and some council members' dissatisfaction with Frazier prompted the council's legislative investigations committee to come up with new crime-fighting initiatives. They traveled to New York City, which has seen its crime plummet after instituting, among other things, a zero tolerance policy.

Zero tolerance means that even the pettiest of crimes would bring police response. Council President Lawrence A. Bell III also has pushed for Baltimore to begin zero tolerance.

But Frazier, Schmoke and Jessamy said that zero tolerance would be too expensive, require more police officers and clog the courts with petty criminal cases.

Nevertheless O'Malley is hoping that public pressure will get the city's criminal justice leaders to cooperate more.

He wants the city to implement five initiatives:

Cut the time it takes to process charges at Central Booking.

Begin a citywide nuisance crime citation process.

Create an arraignment court to quickly process misdemeanor crimes.

Target more crime hot spots.

Keep repeat violent offenders incarcerated longer.

O'Malley said that only the hot-spot process has been implemented, "while the others languish somewhere between antipathy, indecision and apathy."

Jessamy said that O'Malley was wrong to accuse her of not being tough on repeat violent offenders and standing in the way of implementing zero tolerance.

"He is attempting to blame somebody for [zero tolerance] not working, but I'm not the person," Jessamy said. "I'm not a person who stands in the way of getting things done."

Rinehardt and Frazier did not return calls yesterday.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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