Baltimore gets boost for its crime fighting

$28 million grants: Clinton administration's farewell gifts enable city to hire 200 new officers.

January 21, 2001

PRESIDENT CLINTON gave Baltimore quite a farewell present: one-time federal grants totaling $28.8 million that will enable the city to hire 200 more police officers and provide drug treatment for 1,000 additional addicts each year.

"We are going to save lots of lives with these dollars," a jubilant Mayor Martin O'Malley said when the grants were announced Thursday.

That aid couldn't have come at a more propitious time. Policing strategies introduced last year have finally started to temper the runaway homicide rate, which had been among the nation's highest. Meanwhile, increased state funding promises to provide badly needed drug treatment slots for some of the estimated 60,000 Baltimoreans who are addicted to cocaine, heroin or alcohol.

The $24 million grant to fund 200 new officers over three years is the largest federal gift the city Police Department has ever received.

It came with an additional sweetener: Because of Baltimore's financial distress, the city has to provide only a 10 percent match, not the 25 percent normally asked. (Beginning in the fourth year, of course, the city has to shoulder the entire cost alone.)

An additional $1.5 million grant will enable the city to buy a microwave surveillance system and equip more patrol officers with laptop computers and other state-of-the-art technology.

This money is manna from heaven because the Police Department's annual budget for such equipment is only $200,000. In other words, anything beyond that amount must be financed through public or private grants.

The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which pays the bulk of the 200 new officers' initial salaries, has come under some heavy attacks in Congress. A spokesman for President George W. Bush has indicated he is committed to keeping the program at its current funding levels.

It would indeed be foolish for the new Bush administration to allow anything to jeopardize a program that has contributed so greatly to dramatic nationwide reductions in violent crime.

The Clinton administration often used Baltimore as a convenient and friendly backdrop for urban initiatives. With Mr. Bush, the staunchly Democratic city is less likely to be in such a favored position.

In politics, as in life, nothing succeeds like success. That's why Baltimore must make a compelling case that last year's anti-violence initiative -- which showed such promise -- bears further fruit.

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