City police to redeploy officers

Actions taken in bid to curb outbreak of killings, violence

`This is like a forest fire'

Shootings linked to high drug prices, more gang fighting

November 07, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Concerned about a monthlong spike in homicides and shootings, Baltimore police officials are redeploying officers and ordering commanders to work night shifts to get a better handle on violence, some of which appears to stem from higher drug prices.

"This is like a forest fire," said Deputy Police Commissioner Bert F. Shirey. "It does not go out spontaneously. We either put out the fire, or it runs out of material to burn. We have to get in the middle of this thing, cool it down."

Police officials said they were still trying to get a handle on what sparked the increase in homicides - nearly one a day since Oct. 1. From Oct. 7 to Nov. 3, 68 people were shot - a 45 percent increase over last year.

However, officials note that violent crime overall - including rapes, robberies and assaults - is down 11 percent from last year.

Several homicides and shootings in the last month are apparently tied to higher wholesale narcotic prices and poorer quality on the streets, both of which have caused "friction" between drug gangs, police officials said.

"Things start getting tight," said Col. Robert M. Stanton, commander of the criminal investigation division. "It seems like something is going on that we weren't experiencing before. ... This may be responsible for some of the violence earlier in October."

Stanton said that the higher drug prices might stem from counterterrorism efforts at the country's borders, which make it more difficult to smuggle the drugs to Baltimore.

Stanton said that the most recent homicides - eight in the past five days - do not appear to be related, although several might be connected to past violence and crimes.

To combat the violence, police will eliminate two-man squad cars, freeing 18 to 24 officers in each police district to work on "flex" squads, which commanders can dispatch to high-crime areas, Shirey said.

Police commanders have been ordered to work from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. - a tactic used earlier this year - to better supervise what is happening during the most crime-prone hours.

Police officials also plan to begin the annual holiday deployment of extra officers into high-crime areas earlier than usual, Shirey said.

The department usually dispatches more officers, many of whom have desk jobs, onto the streets to prevent robberies and other crime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Shirey said.

Police also have dispatched about 25 tactical officers to Northeast Baltimore, where five people have been killed in the past 10 days.

Northeastern District has seen a 12 percent jump in violent crime during the past month.

But commanders will not remove officers of the mobile enforcement teams in East and West Baltimore, where violent crime has dropped 18 percent in the past month.

"We're hanging tight to those areas," Shirey said.

The redeployment comes after Norris said last month that his department had become "distracted" by its efforts to prevent and prepare for a terrorist attack.

It also follows state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden's comments on Monday that "Osama bin Laden is not on Caroline Street," and the police force should concentrate on first reducing crime.

Norris defended the measures his department has taken to protect Baltimore against a terrorist attack.

"The fact is, Osama bin Laden's people are here, and if he doesn't believe that, he's living in a fool's paradise," he said of McFadden. "We're at war now, and to not prepare for another attack on the United States would be completely irresponsible."

Police said that 218 people have been killed this year, 12 fewer than during the same period last year. That nearly ends any chance the city has to keep homicides under 225 by Dec. 31 - the department's goal.

Mayor Martin O'Malley has said he would like to reduce the number of homicides to 175 by the end of next year.

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