Delay in crime fight lamented

Mayor says bickering with Daniel cost city a month

April 14, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

As Baltimore's homicide count continued to rise yesterday, Mayor Martin O'Malley blamed bickering with former police commissioner Ronald L. Daniel for holding up a new crime-fighting plan that could have prevented the recent spate of killings.

The mayor remained undaunted by a homicide count that is rapidly spiraling beyond last year's pace, and he predicted this will be the first year in a decade that Baltimore records fewer than 300 killings.

His remarks came after a night during which two men were killed and another critically wounded in three separate shootings. As of April 13 last year, police had reported 64 homicides. Yesterday, Baltimore had recorded 83 homicides. Killings last year totaled 311. On March 30, when Daniel resigned, the city was five homicides ahead of last year's pace.

"We lost a month wrestling over whether we should publish the [crime-fighting] plan," O'Malley said in an interview, referring to squabbles he had with Daniel. "Now I think you are going to see signs of improvement with every passing month."

He said Daniel did not share his determination and vision for reducing the decade-long killing scourge, which has left Baltimore with the second-highest per capita homicide rate in the nation.

"I came to realize he was not that [committed] so that is why we had to make the change," O'Malley said. "Now that we made it, we move forward."

Daniel declined to comment. He resigned after 57 days as commissioner, saying he could not back the plan and refused to quickly implement it. O'Malley, who campaigned to cut the number of homicides to 175 by 2002, then appointed Edward T. Norris as commissioner.

Norris told the City Council on Tuesday that three months were "lost" to crime-fighting because of the delay in completing the plan.

O'Malley and Norris unveiled a 152-page plan April 4 that moves detectives from headquarters to station houses, expands a warrant squad to target an estimated 54,000 people wanted for arrest, attacks open-air drug markets, better tracks crime patterns and pairs officers in patrol cars in high-crime areas.

The plan, created by a team of consultants whose plans have reduced violent crime in other cities, also calls for a revamping of the department's handling of citizen brutality complaints and officer misconduct.

Norris, as part of a series of community meetings, met with 17 residents at Police Headquarters last night. Addressing concerns that his crime plan will lead to abuse, he said better training is the answer. But he made no apologies for going after criminals.

"The 311 people killed last year were not killed by the Baltimore Police Department," he said. "The people who live here are the people who are being killed here. We are doing this with the best intentions. If this plan does not go forward, nothing is going to get done and the city won't get safe."

Although the latest killings put the city on pace to reach 300 homicides this year for the 11th consecutive year, O'Malley refused to be intimidated by the statistics and staked his political reputation on the Police Department's ability to stem the spate of killings.

"I do not think I am staking too much on immediate results," O'Malley said. "It is not beyond our control. Other cities are doing it, and we are going to do it."

About 11: 51 p.m. yesterday, two unidentified men were found shot to death in a car parked in the 1500 block of Lester Morton Court in East Baltimore, police said. Additional details were not available.

In Northwest Baltimore yesterday, an unidentified man in his mid-20s who was selling music cassettes, was shot to death about 8 p.m. in the 2900 block of Garrison Blvd., said Detective Bill Ritz. A gray foreign car was seen speeding away.

In East Baltimore, an unidentified man was killed about 11: 30 p.m. Wednesday in the 800 block of McAleer Court. An hour later, police found the body of another unidentified man who had been shot once in the head in the 1500 block of Preston St.

Police are also investigating the shooting of two men about 12: 40 a.m. yesterday in front of Po Shan Carryout in the 2700 block of Pennsylvania Ave. One victim, Brian Davis, 27, of the 4300 block of Rokeby Road, is in critical condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

O'Malley called the violence "tragic" and said "it underscores the importance of this plan."

Police commanders expressed support for O'Malley yesterday but cautioned that it will be hard to dent a decade-long trend in a few months.

"Just like the Health Department, Public Works and Fire Department, I think anytime you implement a program, it is going to take a while before you see results," said Maj. John McEntee, commander of the Northwestern District.

Police officials noted that the pace of homicides is still slower than in many previous years. In 1998, 100 homicides had been recorded as of April 15, according to police statistics.

At a "Stop the Killing," event in West Baltimore last night, community leaders again called for peace and sanity.

The outdoor rally at Mondawmin Mall, organized by a local radio station and the March Funeral Homes, was attended by several hundred people.

"Too many young people are going into caskets. The pace hasn't slowed, and the police can't do it. The families and the schools have to do it," said Erich W. March, general manager of his family's business. "We started working on this in 1989 [when there were 262 homicides]. We thought it was bad then, and it's gone up every year."

Sun staff writers Rafael Alvarez, Peter Hermann and Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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