U.S. delays decision on crime grant

Baltimore competing for funds to study patterns of violence

City `still in this'

Postponement follows report of rift over public safety plan

August 11, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A dispute about how to implement a Harvard University criminologist's plan to reduce homicides might have cost Baltimore its ranking in obtaining a federal grant to help track crime patterns in city neighborhoods.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), an arm of the U.S. Justice Department, had planned to select a recipient on July 21, the day The Sun reported a rift between state and federal prosecutors that indefinitely delayed the announcement of the anti-crime program.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Melanie Wilson, the deputy director of the city planning department, said local officials had been confident about getting the five-year grant, which is worth more than $2 million.

But when news of the squabbling became public, city officials said the NIJ grant selection committee notified them that it would be evaluating other cities for the program.

Baltimore is competing with San Diego, Denver and Seattle for the grant.

"They said they were still impressed, but their initial selection process has slowed and they wanted to review everyone before making a short list," Schmoke said. "We are still in this. I don't think we have lost it. But we haven't obtained it yet."

Justice officials declined to comment on specifics yesterday.

"All the sites are still under review," said spokeswoman Gretchen Michael. "We are not expecting an announcement until the end of August or the beginning of September."

An NIJ spokeswoman, Kris Rose, confirmed that an announcement had been planned for last month, but she said she did not know why it had been delayed.

Law enforcement officials in Baltimore had planned to announce a homicide reduction plan -- designed by Harvard criminologist David Kennedy -- last month. It calls for a cooperative effort from every facet of law enforcement to target a specific group of individuals responsible for most of the city's violence.

Police had planned to discuss the plan -- dubbed Operation Cease Fire -- and at the same time proclaim victory over a violent East Baltimore drug gang. But the news conference, which had been on Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's public schedule, was abruptly canceled.

U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia had objected to a public presentation at a time when the city's court system was under attack for a series of blunders, some of which allowed murder defendants to walk free, and officials debated whether gun cases would be prosecuted by local or federal authorities.

City police, who had launched an investigation into an East Baltimore gang as part of Operation Cease Fire, quietly announced a series of arrests on July 29, and said that the operation was to have been linked with Kennedy's study.

Wilson said the NIJ grant would be used to develop a computer database to help police implement Kennedy's plan by tracking crime patterns throughout Baltimore. It would allow easy identification of trends and repeat criminal offenders by mapping out their offenses.

"It's an incredible opportunity," Wilson said. "It would show how we could allocate resources in the neighborhoods."

Betsi Griffith, who heads Baltimore's Safe and Sound program, an agency that works on obtaining crime-related grants, blamed the news story, which she called false, on the potential loss.

She said NIJ officials visited the city and "were extremely pleased." But, Griffith added: "I'm sure the article didn't help if someone in Washington read it."

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