Mayor wants faster action against crime

O'Malley says police haven't done enough to curb drug markets

`I want them to get rolling'

New leaders warned to act swiftly in wake of 19 killings this year

January 21, 2000|By Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn | Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

An impatient Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that his new police leaders have not moved fast enough to target Baltimore's open-air drug markets and curtail violence that has claimed 19 lives this month.

The Police Department has not acted with the same quick determination as the Department of Public Works, whose new agency head cleared more trash from streets last week than was picked up in all of January last year, O'Malley said.

"I wish that the Police Department would take on the same urgency," the mayor said. "So far they haven't done that. I'm trying to be patient, and I'm having a difficult time being patient. I want them to get rolling."

O'Malley's surprising public criticism of his police force came at his weekly news conference, as he responded to reporters' questions a day after a community forum on crime and a double slaying on a West Baltimore street.

The mayor appointed Ronald L. Daniel police commissioner three weeks ago. Daniel has a daunting mandate to reduce a decade-long trend of high crime and homicides and help O'Malley fulfill a centerpiece of his administration.

O'Malley is anxious to fulfill a campaign promise to clear 10 open-air drug corners within six months of taking office. He said a plan would be in place by Feb. 1.

Daniel had no comment. Col. Bert L. Shirey, chief of the patrol bureau, said the 10 targeted corners have been selected and will be made public after top commanders review the proposed list at a meeting today.

District police commanders will then meet with community leaders and walk through neighborhoods to assess the crime situation and develop a plan of attack over the next few weeks.

Police said their strategy will involve more than routine raids and arrests at trouble spots and will include a variety of agencies to tailor each action to a neighborhood's unique characteristics.

"We can shut a corner down in one day," Shirey said. "The trick is to keep it shut down. The purpose of this is to make this thing last."

Shirey said O'Malley's "sense of urgency was very well placed. We have a big job ahead of us, and we don't want to waste any unnecessary time. We are as every bit impatient as anyone else in the city to get this thing done and get some results.

"Having the mayor behind this so emphatically," he added, "is a huge factor in assuring success."

Baltimore has had 300 or more homicides every year for the past decade, in contrast to progress made in other cities such as New York, New Orleans and Boston, where killings have dropped to 30-year lows.

In the first 20 days this year, 19 people have been killed, including 10 since Friday. Nearly 50 people have been shot and wounded. Police have made arrests in just seven of the shootings.

"My hope is that this year we'll be under that 300 mark," O'Malley said. "And every week we delay is one less week in this year that we're going to be able to evaluate our progress. The police are going to have to be much more responsive than they have been."

Daniel has worked to streamline the command chain, but he is still busy assembling his crime-fighting team.

He has hired Edward T. Norris, a top New York police official who implemented a more assertive style of enforcement credited with that city's crime drop, to lead Baltimore's patrol officers and detectives. Though Norris has been in Baltimore the past several days, he has not officially started work.

Daniel has a formidable task to quickly make the changes he wants in the department, which was criticized by O'Malley's advisory committee last month for allowing "rampant and unabated violent crime" under Daniel's predecessor, Thomas C. Frazier.

O'Malley said he understands the "challenges Ron's facing every day in trying to get that department in order. But I think that you can't wait until it's perfect. You've got to go out there and start doing it."

The mayor said that historic problems that have hampered police efforts, such as overcrowded courts and poor communication among law enforcement agencies, need to be addressed.

But he said he wants Daniel "to get the troops out there. I think it's important that we demonstrate to the public that we're serious."

"I'm really champing at the bit," O'Malley said.

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