Clark stresses jobs, housing as means of reducing crime

At Coppin State forum, police commissioner puts focus on prevention

April 02, 2004|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Police can put criminals behind bars, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark told a Coppin State College audience yesterday, but it's jobs and decent housing that might keep felons from going back to prison.

"We have to look at ... prevention," Clark said. "There's an unskilled labor force that leaves prison. What jobs can they get?"

Clark also said that access to health care was key in keeping those who are convicted of crimes from becoming repeat offenders because many inmates suffer from psychological problems.

"There's a monumental task ahead of us here," Clark said. "We have to look at ways of solving these issues, or the recidivism is going to continue."

The police commissioner also suggested that lawmakers should consider passing legislation that would drop misdemeanor convictions from former prisoners' records after a certain period of time, a move that would make it easier for some ex-convicts to find jobs.

Clark addressed about 60 people at Coppin State as part of the school's second annual Criminal Justice Day symposium, a daylong event with the theme, "Reducing Crime in the Black Community: Recycling vs. Re-entry."

Since becoming the city's police commissioner a little more than a year ago, Clark, 47, has made Baltimore's notorious drug problem a focus of his crime fighting efforts.

"My philosophy, at least while I'm here, is I'm going full speed after the drug trade," Clark said yesterday. He acknowledged that he can't stop drugs from entering Baltimore but said the police are working to arrest major dealers and suppliers.

Still, much more must be done, he said.

"Crime is down 50 percent from the 1999 Uniform Crime Reports," Clark said, referring to the FBI statistics that record crime throughout the country. "But what does that mean? The burglaries are down 50 percent, but you're still walking by drug dealers and prostitutes on the streets, so do you feel any better? No."

Clark gave sobering statistics about the numbers of African-Americans who are incarcerated. While blacks make up 13 percent of the United States' population, they make up more than 50 percent of inmates nationwide, he said.

"Ninety-five percent of those incarcerated probably have some connection to narcotics," Clark said. "The bulk of the crime in this city, 90 percent of the victims, are black. And most of the perpetrators are black."

Clark, who directed the New York City Police Department's narcotics enforcement efforts as a police commander there, said he wasn't sure he wanted to work in Baltimore when Mayor Martin O'Malley approached him. On a visit to the city, O'Malley took Clark to Federal Hill, where the peaceful view of the Inner Harbor caused the New Yorker to doubt the need for his crime-fighting initiatives.

But then O'Malley drove Clark to East Oliver Street, showing him the house where a fire, deliberately set by a small-time drug dealer, killed Angela and Carnell Dawson and their five children.

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