Schmoke asks O'Malley to detail how he would implement zero-tolerance policing

Mayor fears policy would increase police brutality

September 17, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Concerned that use of the New York-style zero-tolerance policing could lead to police brutality, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called on Baltimore's Democratic nominee for mayor yesterday to explain how he plans to use the strategy.

Schmoke made the comments during his first news conference since Tuesday's primary election. Although he generally offered support for the Democrats' choice for mayor, City Councilman Martin J. O'Malley, Schmoke said use of the stringent crime-cutting approach troubles him.

"My concern would be a dramatic increase in cases of police abuse," Schmoke said in his City Hall conference room. "I certainly hope the Democratic nominee would define that better."

O'Malley has stood firmly against police brutality but has emphasized that he wants to sweep Baltimore's drug corners clean and make city streets safer. He has long advocated using the zero-tolerance approach to curbing Baltimore's crime rate.

And he appears to have sold Democratic voters on his plan, as he handily defeated his top opponents, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and former councilman and school board member Carl Stokes, in the primary, with 53 percent of the vote.

"The question really is: Does police brutality flow from the strategy that's employed or is it from the fact that we have human beings with great discretion?" O'Malley said yesterday. He added that he plans to focus more on how officers conduct themselves to guard against abuses, which he said he believes happen regardless of the strategy used.

O'Malley's Republican challenger, David F. Tufaro, shies away from the term "zero tolerance." He supports community policing, with officers working the same neighborhood beat for years, and the use of criminal and civil citations to combat nuisance crimes that often lead to more serious offenses.

"Everybody across the city is unhappy with the level of crime," Tufaro said. "The reason I don't like buzz words is they lead to a misunderstanding of what those terms are."

Otherwise, Schmoke offered conciliatory remarks about a man who long had been his nemesis.

"I think the community made a wise decision," Schmoke said, declining to say whom he voted for. "I think Mr. O'Malley articulated solutions to the problems better than his opponents."

Because Democrats in Baltimore outnumber Republicans 9-to-1, Schmoke said he is acting as if O'Malley will be the 47th mayor, before the Nov. 2 general election. The mayor has met and talked with O'Malley in the past two days to smooth the transition between administrations.

"I did give Mr. O'Malley one bit of advice, that he build in time for his family," Schmoke said.

Dr. Patricia Schmoke, the mayor's wife, called O'Malley's wife, Katie, to talk to her about being the spouse of a big-city mayor, the mayor said.

"The mayor has been extremely gracious," O'Malley said.

Schmoke said he does not see the election of his longtime foe as a rebuke of his administration.

"I know there are people who will try to interpret the election that way, but I think it's silly to do so," Schmoke said. "If I had been on the ballot and lost, I could see how you could draw that conclusion.

"I haven't heard anyone suggesting that Sheila Dixon's election was an affirmation of my administration because she was one of my most ardent supporters."

Schmoke said providing a smooth transition for O'Malley is one of his main goals before he leaves office in December. He also is asking each city agency to pick its four top priorities to focus on; wants to continue the redevelopment of such housing projects as Murphy Homes; and will work with the school board to create a magnet middle school for the arts.

Schmoke said the strong economy should give the next mayor a good springboard into office. And if O'Malley wins November's election, the support he has gained from key state officials should provide him with solid support, Schmoke said.

"I believe he will enjoy a very good -- I don't know how long -- honeymoon period in Annapolis," Schmoke said.

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