Police add to night patrol

Forces are being doubled in 3 most violent districts

24 killings in past month

July 26, 2002|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

Attempting to halt a wave of violence that has left 24 dead in less than a month, Baltimore police have authorized more than 2,000 hours of overtime this weekend so that twice as many officers will be on nighttime patrol in the city's most violent police districts.

Through extended shifts, an additional 20 officers each will be on the streets this weekend in the Eastern, Western and Southwestern districts during high-crime hours -- generally between 7 p.m. and 4 a.m. Those districts have seen drastic increases in crime this year, particularly in the past month.

The strategy of increasing patrols to such an extent is unprecedented, police officials said.

"We need to bring an immediate halt to the escalating violence in these three districts," Deputy Police Commissioner John McEntee said yesterday. "This is a pretty significant variation from anything we've ever done in terms of putting officers on the street to fight crime."

The estimated cost of the overtime pay wasn't immediately available, a police spokeswoman said. But based on past salary figures for city police officers, the overtime is likely to cost at least $10,000 each night.

The increased patrols began Wednesday and will last through the weekend, McEntee said. The department, which typically splits each day into three shifts, has extended two shifts to 12 hours so that the third shift is doubled at night. Although police have used this method in other instances, such as natural disasters, they have never used it to fight crime, McEntee said.

But stopping city violence has gained a new sense of urgency in the past month, with two dozen people -- including three juveniles -- killed. The past two weeks alone have brought the shooting of a 10-year-old boy hit by stray gunfire on his porch; a triple shooting that left three young children with bullet wounds; the death of a 15-year-old allegedly shot for trying to steal a bicycle; and the death of a 13-year-old in a drive-by shooting in West Baltimore.

The three districts receiving the increased patrols accounted for 52 of the city's 72 shootings in the four-week period ending Saturday, McEntee said. On Wednesday night, when the increased force went into effect, only one shooting was reported in those districts, he said.

The increased units are temporary, however, mostly because of the cost. McEntee estimated that the department will have to pay officers 500 to 600 hours of overtime each night. But he said the plan might be considered again in other times of heightened crime.

Several community leaders praised the temporary move.

"It makes me feel as though at least people can be able to walk by the corner and they are at ease," said Edna Manns, president of the Fayette Street Outreach Organization in the Western District.

Eric Smith, executive director of the Franklin Square Community Association in the Western District, also welcomed the measure.

"It's needed," Smith said. "I think it will be very effective. They have listened to our cry for more of a police presence."

Others, however, doubted that significant progress would be made.

"All it does is scatter the problem to somebody else's neighborhood or somebody else's corner," said Judith Bennick, executive director of Communities Organized to Improve Life, (COIL), which serves three districts, including the Southwestern. "It cleans up the area, but two blocks away or five blocks away it becomes a problem. So it's a cat-and-mouse game."

Joyce Smith, project director of Operation Reach-Out Southwest, said she is frustrated that police have not told community leaders about the plan. McEntee could not confirm whether his department alerted them.

"It's a start," Joyce Smith said. "But they can't just go out there like Big Brother watching you and not try to establish a relationship with the people in the communities."

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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