What a way to start

January 07, 2003

WHAT SEEMED LIKE an abominably violent 2002 is now bleeding into 2003, and eight lives were snuffed out on Baltimore streets in the first half-week.

Happy New Year.

Lest anyone think the city was due a breather in its bid to control crime, the first four days of this year show how much work there still is to do.

But let's not overreact, or take this spate out of context.

First, it's true that, overall, homicide in Baltimore remains on a downslide. A three-year downslide, mind you, that followed 10 straight years of 300 murders or more. Only the most cynical observers could chalk that up as a fluke or as insignificant.

Second, there's no statistically sound reason to look at last week any differently than the week before or the month before that. We measure time in 12-month increments to give life pacing and markers, but that doesn't mean something that happens in the first week of the year is actually the start or the end of anything. It's part of a continuum - and that continuum is what police and other criminal justice authorities ought to be focused on.

They need to dedicate more resources to calming the tempest of violence in East Baltimore, where killings jumped 60 percent last year despite already increased police presence. If there is a need for more cops on corners there, so be it. If police need to make better arrests and work more closely with prosecutors to make charges stick and win longer sentences, so be it.

The frightening jump in juvenile murders is also reflected in the 2003 first-week killings. One 16-year-old was among the dead, and a 15-year-old was shot multiple times.

On this issue, police attention may be better directed toward long-term solutions, such as the kind of community policing and relationship-building that is at the heart of efforts like Project Safe Neighborhoods. The kids who are being killed are children with no hope, often gunned down by other youngsters in the same predicament. Sweeps and massive lockups alone can't be the antidotes to their woes.

No one wanted to begin 2003 with a reprise of the bad old days in Baltimore, but that's no longer under anyone's control. The key now is to use last week as an impetus to make sure the rest of this year isn't quite as deadly.

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