Apathy fuels high murder rate

Anger needed: Violence will not taper off unless communities turn against hoodlums.

November 20, 1999

BALTIMORE'S homicide rate -- among the highest in the nation -- could be headed for another record.

An escalation of killings since September has erased a downward trend earlier in the year. If this rate persists, the city could end up with 300 or more slayings for the ninth consecutive year.

This is an intolerable situation.

But instead of being angry and helping police stop this bloodshed, drug-infested neighborhoods tolerate gun-toting hoodlums.

A wider sense of outrage? Forget about it. In May, the Greater Baltimore Committee pledged to work toward halving the region's homicide rate by 2002. Where are the strategies, where is the action?

Something happened in September that reversed the decline of monthly murder figures. No one is sure exactly what. Did serious understaffing lessen police ability to control trouble spots? Or did the rank-and-file show its contempt for Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier after it became clear he would have no future under the new mayor?

Current Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke did not make the situation easier after Mr. Frazier left for a new job. Instead of appointing one interim commissioner, he decided to rotate three colonels through the vacancy. Since all three are angling for the commissioner's job, that ensured the department would have no consistency of action. Worse yet, the lame-duck mayor created this leadership vacuum just as the Police Department was under fierce criticism for a lethal shooting of a man scuffling with an officer.

When he is inaugurated on Dec. 7, the new mayor, Martin J. O'Malley, has to take resolute action to curb the violence and return order to the Police Department. In the end, however, stopping killings is up to the community. Hoodlums will continue shooting as long as citizens allow them to get away with murder.

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