Police union lauds plan to cut crime Increased enforcement of traffic laws could cut violent crime, mayor says

September 19, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's police union commended yesterday Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's call for city police to enforce traffic laws more aggressively in an effort to reduce violent crime.

Wednesday, Schmoke toured Cleveland, a city similar in size and demographics to Baltimore, to view crime-fighting strategies that officials there said have helped reduce the homicide rate.

Although Cleveland and Baltimore use many of the same crime-fighting initiatives, including community policing, Schmoke noted that police in Cleveland write more traffic tickets. Issuing 253,000 tickets last year -- three times more than in Baltimore -- allowed Cleveland police to conduct more searches for and seizures of drugs and guns, Schmoke said.

Cleveland recorded 84 homicides last year, the least in 33 years. Schmoke instructed Baltimore police administrators to begin exploring how the city can implement the traffic policy here.

Gary McLhinney, president of Lodge 3, Fraternal Order of Police, lauded Schmoke's actions as a significant step in cracking down on violent crime in the city. Baltimore has recorded more than 300 homicides a year since 1989, giving it the fifth-highest homicide rate in the nation.

Over the past four years, the police union, which represents 3,200 sworn city officers, has been at odds with Schmoke, criticizing the mayor for not adopting the tougher "zero-tolerance" strategies that have helped reduce crime in cities such as New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

"We applaud the mayor's initiative," McLhinney said. "This is a plan that will get drugs and guns off the streets."

Two years ago, Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier rejected state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.'s call to set up a squad to conduct such traffic searches. At the time, the city created a Violent Crime Task Force to target gun violence and drug dealing.

Such searches are raising concerns with the American Civil Liberties Union and civil rights activists, who worry that law-abiding citizens, particularly blacks, are being harassed. In June, the ACLU filed a federal suit charging the Maryland State Police with racism after a two-year study found that three of four motorists stopped along Interstate 95 were black. The police deny the racism allegations.

Frazier sent two colonels to Cleveland before Schmoke's visit, and the department said it is studying the policy.

"The entire Cleveland program will be reviewed to see what could be applicable and effective in Baltimore," police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. said.

The key outcome of the visit, McLhinney said, should be tougher measures to fight crime in Baltimore.

"Call it whatever you want," McLhinney said. "It's really old-fashioned police work."

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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