Mayors to lobby for COPS program

Police hiring plan to be focus of event in Park Heights today

March 13, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

THE MAYORS — Mayor Martin O'Malley and eight fellow mayors are scheduled today to visit a Park Heights neighborhood that has seen crime drop and to warn that proposed cuts in federal law-enforcement grants could jeopardize such progress.

The mayors -- including those of New Orleans, Akron, Ohio, and Elizabeth, N.J., -- are to hold a noon news conference at Garrison Boulevard and Palmer Avenue, where police and residents say drug dealing has been vanquished and violent crime is down sharply.

The event is part of a lobbying campaign by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to stop the Bush administration from reducing the COPS police hiring program by nearly $600 million, or 80 percent, and another police grant program by $200 million.

The mayors argue that those programs should not be used to help pay for $3.5 billion in new anti-terrorism funding for states and local governments.

"We don't believe that the best way to protect the United States or fund homeland defense is to stop funding local law enforcement," O'Malley said. "You have to do both."

O'Malley said that during the past decade, "the foreign chemical attack of cocaine and heroin" has claimed 6,000 lives in the city in overdoses and homicides.

But Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller, said Bush's budget also adds $800 million that departments could use for new officers or to fill other needs.

"They still have the ability, if they so require, to hire additional officers if they feel that is what is necessary," Miller said. He added that COPS, begun in 1995 by the Clinton administration, has put 114,000 officers on the street; the goal was 100,000.

Baltimore has hired nearly 900 police officers using $58 million in COPS money.

The mayors plan to go to Capitol Hill tomorrow to lobby members of Congress. Mayor Marc H. Morial of New Orleans, president of the mayor's association, selected Baltimore as the site for today's protest because of reductions in violent crime here the past two years, said spokesman Andy Solomon.

Baltimore officials see it as a public relations coup for a city often associated with the television series Homicide.

"It's terrific recognition of the hard work of our neighbors and men and women of the Police Department and those working in drug treatment," O'Malley said.

The corner of Garrison and Palmer was one of 10 open-air drug markets that O'Malley said in 2000 he would reclaim.

Jean Yarborough, who lives down the street, said stepped-up police efforts have worked. "They stayed on top of it," said Yarborough, of the Park Heights Networking Community Council. "They didn't let them breathe. They disrupted the flow of traffic."

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