Answers sought on crime strategy

City councilman to ask Clark for promised plan

Commissioner: `We'll put it out'

April 19, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

An ally of Mayor Martin O'Malley's on the City Council said he plans to introduce a resolution today asking police Commissioner Kevin Clark to explain why the number of homicides rose last year and why he has not released a long-promised plan to fight crime.

Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. of Northeast Baltimore said he is "very concerned" about Clark's lack of a plan 15 months into office.

"I want to make sure the city has a crime-fighting plan, especially with the warm months coming, when homicides generally rise," Harris said. "We just had a year in which we saw an increase in homicides for the first time since 1998."

Under O'Malley's former police commissioner, Edward T. Norris, homicides in the city fell from more than 300 each year during the 1990s to 261 in 2000, 256 in 2001 and 253 in 2002.

Norris quit to become state police superintendent in December 2002 and O'Malley picked Clark, a fellow New Yorker, the next month. The homicide tally rose last year to 271. As of Friday, the city had 77 homicides this year, compared with 78 a year ago.

Clark said he will soon release his crime-fighting plan and is more than willing to appear before the council to explain his strategies.

"My plan is ready, and we'll put it out," Clark said. "I'll tell you what, I could have walked in here, and within a week or two, I could have written some plan. But would I have known the unique crime conditions that affect each different command? No. ... The plan that I decided on took time to think through."

Clark said his strategy continues to rely on the computerized system of analyzing crime data called ComStat, which Norris brought from New York to target problem areas.

In addition, Clark has created an organized crime division, introduced civil citations for nuisance crimes and emphasized intra-department cooperation.

"My plan is focused on narcotics primarily as the driving force in crime in the city, but it also focuses on ... the recidivist criminal in the city," Clark said. "Every operational unit within the Police Department has to communicate, cooperate and coordinate."

Clark said homicide numbers went up last year in part because of a statistical abnormality. He said that most years, the state medical examiner's office counts as homicides about seven victims who died from injuries suffered in previous years, but last year the state counted 17.

Dan Fickus, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said officers talk so often about the lack of a crime-fighting plan from Clark that they've turned it into a running joke.

"Everybody notices there's no plan," Fickus said. "It's kind of been a humorous thing with our officers, `Where's the plan? I don't have the plan, do you have the plan?' People like to have some kind of direction."

On March 6 last year, the city approved a $90,000 contract for John Linder & Associates of New York to write a "new plan of action" for the Baltimore Police Department, conduct a study of its performance since 1999 and survey the opinions of officers.

Linder finished the work by August. Clark didn't like some aspects of Linder's report, thought it was incomplete and decided to write his own crime-fighting plan, O'Malley said. Clark's plan incorporates some of Linder's material, while adding his insights, especially about drug enforcement, which is his specialty, O'Malley said.

"Some will ask: Why did it take so long to create a plan?" O'Malley said. "But we didn't want him to rush the plan, because we wanted him to do it right."

The Sun requested a copy last week of the Linder report under the Maryland Public Information Act, but O'Malley did not immediately agree to release it. Deputy City Solicitor Donald Huskey said the city would study the request.

Clark said Linder's survey of officers found discontentment about pay, the number of vehicles, and the department's discipline system. But Clark added that this is common in urban departments.

City Council members Kwame Osayaba Abayomi, chairman of the council's public safety committee, and Bernard C. "Jack" Young said they support the idea of inviting Clark to testify before the council.

"I think it's an excellent idea," Abayomi said. Clark's crime-fighting plan "is something that not only the council but the public is in dire need of knowing."

Sun staff writer Ryan Davis contributed to this article.

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