O'Malley laments police shootings

`Ineffective policing' the result of past management, he says

February 07, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

As Baltimore homicide detectives and the state's attorney's office continue to investigate two shootings that involved city police this weekend, Mayor Martin O'Malley said the problems his new administration confronts are the result of failed police management of the past.

"The ineffective policing of the past has led to an unacceptably high rate of police-involved shootings," O'Malley said.

The killing Saturday evening of Ralph Chambers, 34, of the 1600 block of Lansing St. by Officer Craig Klein was the seventh fatal shooting involving Baltimore police in 13 months. Chambers was the fourth unarmed person killed in a police-involved shooting in six months.

Klein, on the force for three years, has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

He fatally wounded Chambers while trying to arrest him for allegedly selling drugs about 5: 30 p.m. Saturday in an alley near the 1600 block of Federal St. Police said that before Chambers was shot, he had pinned the officer to the ground and warned, "Don't make me use my stuff."

Four blocks from that scene, about 22 hours earlier, Officer Jerry Kevin Weaver was wounded in a gunfight during a drug surveillance operation. His partner, Officer Louis Holley, exchanged shots with Samuel Keith Thompson, 40, of the 1700 block of N. Washington St.

Thompson was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and a weapons violation. He was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital for a gunshot wound in the foot and thigh. He was being held overnight at the Central Booking and Intake Center pending a bail review hearing today before a District Court judge.

Holley was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Weaver was released yesterday from Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore after being treated for a bullet wound to his right arm and rib cage. His mother, Mary Frances Weaver, 62, died of a heart attack hours after learning of the shooting.

O'Malley said the key to preventing police-involved shootings is to have more officers on the street.

"It's an issue of deployment and staffing," the mayor said. He hopes to have detectives assigned to the city's nine police districts within the next month and plans to hire more officers for the 3,200-member force.

"My hope is that over time these types of incidents will decline because officers won't find themselves -- as they do now -- short-staffed on shifts, leaving them without backup," O'Malley said.

"As our deployment improves, as we put more officers into neighborhoods and give officers adequate backup, I think you'll see a reduction in the number of incidents where officers find themselves in situations where they feel they need to use their weapons," O'Malley said. "And as time goes on, we are going to dramatically cut the number of homicides committed with guns."

The issue of police force mushroomed in the weeks surrounding O'Malley's victory in November. A police officer shot Larry Hubbard, 21, in October and a housing officer shot Eli McCoy, 17, on Thanksgiving. The state's attorney's office is investigating both shootings, and lawsuits against the city are pending. In September, Mardio House, 27, was shot and killed by a homicide detective who mistook House's cellular telephone for a weapon.

While a crowd that gathered at the scene of Saturday night's shooting scorned the mayor as "a killer," O'Malley dismissed the idea that his crime-fighting plan -- which has been compared to New York's "zero-tolerance" policing strategy -- contributed to the incidents during the weekend.

"I would not have won 91 percent of the vote if I advocated a policing strategy that calls for police officers to use their guns more often, but when they're attacked and pinned to the ground, officers in Baltimore will use their guns as they would in any city in America," O'Malley said.

Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel, due to be confirmed today, declined to comment, a spokeswoman said.

O'Malley said he is as serious about policing the police as he is about policing the streets.

"We investigate every police-involved shooting very seriously," the mayor said. "Justice will be done."

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