City is past study on justice

leaders must act

Gun violence in our city has made too many people afraid, has brought tragedy to too many families, and has undermined the city's attractiveness to potential employers.

February 23, 2000|By Kathleen Townsend and Martin O'Malley

WE WELCOME The Sun's concurrence with our call for a unified response to gun violence in Baltimore. Our strategy is rooted in three basic principles:

First, our message to gun offenders must be clear, credible and unmistakable: Criminals with guns will be punished. Second, to deliver this message, many agencies -- state, local and federal -- must put their shoulders to the wheel. Finally, enforcement must go hand-in-hand with equally credible alternatives to criminal behavior -- including drug treatment and prevention. Baltimore's strategy must be its own, not an import program with a catchy title, but a transformation of the criminal justice system to put real teeth behind our message that Baltimore will not tolerate gun violence.

On Feb. 1, we convened a large group of law enforcement and community leaders to review and adopt a comprehensive gun enforcement strategy based on these three principles.

Legislation proposed by the Glendening-Townsend administration would strengthen Maryland's existing gun laws -- including a five-year mandatory sentence for violent criminals or drug traffickers who are caught with a gun. This would be more stringent than federal gun laws in most circumstances. The law would also require "ballistics fingerprinting" before a gun is sold, providing police with an instant lead when a bullet or casing is found at a crime scene. The legislation also provides $1 million for local gun enforcement in Baltimore and the state.

With immediate state grants and an unprecedented increase in city funds, the Baltimore state's attorney, Patricia Jessamy, will not only take over the charging function but more than double the number of attorneys dedicated to monitoring and prosecuting adult and juvenile violent gun offenders. With additional state funds, the attorney general will focus on gun transactions outside Baltimore, which bring guns into the city.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Lynne Battaglia will extend the Project Disarm effort to every police district in the city. This is likely to double the number of cases brought under federal no-parole sentencing laws.

The Baltimore Police Department, led by Commissioner Ron Daniel, will revamp its debriefing of gun arrests, enhance training and, with immediate state assistance, improve the intelligence available to detectives, offer reward money targeted toward gun offenders and access Maryland State Police resources for gun investigation. Mr. Daniel, with the assistance of the nationally recognized Maple-Linder police consulting group, has attracted some of the top police personnel in the country to Baltimore.

The Safe and Sound Campaign's work with local, state and federal law enforcement, under the guidance of David Kennedy, has provided us with a clear picture of the small group of offenders who account for most of the city's gun violence. This effort has forged a cross-agency team that can deliver swift justice to any "crew" that does not stop the violence.

A growing network of community leaders, people of faith and service agencies backs up this message by offering help to those who are ready to make a positive change.

At the same time, Maryland's HotSpot Communities Initiative -- which has seen serious crime drop by 30 percent in six Baltimore communities -- will expand to six more communities. We will expand the partnerships between police and probation piloted in HotSpots to include an additional emphasis on gun criminals. Our strategy builds on these foundations.

A court system clogged with minor cases with little impact on public safety cannot pay adequate attention to violent gun felons. At the mayor's request, a coordinating council is pushing to reach a fair disposition in 50 percent of cases within 24 hours.

Within a year, thanks to the Greater Baltimore Committee's leadership, a new Community Court will open to ensure that many of these low-level offenders face swift, visible sanctions and get needed treatment services. We can make this strategy work. Other cities have done so and in Maryland as a whole, gun-related violent crime is down 28 percent since 1995. We must make this strategy work. Gun violence in our city has made too many people afraid, has brought tragedy to too many families, and has undermined the city's attractiveness to potential employers.

The time for study is over.

We have a unified and comprehensive response. Reducing gun violence in Baltimore is a top local, state and federal priority. Now is the time for action.

The writers are, respectively, lieutenant governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore.

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