Crime strategy focuses on drugs

Clark's plan for city targets organizations

April 21, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Dismantling the organizations that control Baltimore's drug trade - and have made the city one of the country's most violent - is the linchpin of a long-awaited crime-fighting plan being unveiled today by city Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark.

The plan stresses the importance of squeezing as much information as possible from arrested street dealers so the intelligence can be used to infiltrate illicit organizations.

Clark said his proposal marks a shift in some long-held perceptions about the drug trade in Baltimore. He does not accept what he described as a previous belief that the city's drug trade is run by "loosely knit" groups.

"Many crime-fighting strategies have been attempted in Baltimore," says the plan, a copy of which was provided to The Sun, "but none have focused on systematically dismantling drug organizations from bottom to top - from the street-level dealers to the millionaire drug bosses who direct the death and destruction in the city."

Experts said yesterday that although Clark might be able to fine-tune some of the city's investigative techniques, the concept of attacking the drug trade as an organization is not new.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said not all the city's drug trafficking is conducted by organized groups. "It's a little bit of both," he said. "You have organizations, and you have loosely based networks."

Clark, whose previous job was directing the New York Police Department's drug division, will release his plan 15 months after taking office - and two days after being publicly questioned by a city councilman about the lack of such a document.

Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. criticized Clark for not having a plan while the city's barometer of crime -homicide numbers - climbed last year for the first time since 1999.

The document, "Effectively Reducing Crime in Baltimore," is designed to guide the 3,200-officer force. Nearly all of the plan has been implemented, Clark said.

"It's a good thing we've got it written down," he said. "Now we can move forward."

In March 2003, the city approved a $90,000 contract for John Linder & Associates of New York to write a crime-fighting strategy. Linder finished the project in August, but Clark rejected portions of the plan.

Mayor Martin O'Malley described Clark's strategy as a natural progression from the largely organizational plan he and then-acting Commissioner Edward T. Norris, Clark's predecessor, released in 2000.

In addition to focusing on drugs with a variety of tactics, including stepped-up undercover stings, Clark's plan targets the city's repeat offenders. He wants to keep files to track recidivists, display their pictures in police stations and question them first about unsolved crimes in their area.

He noted that repeat offenders were involved in most of the city's 271 homicides last year; 91 percent of homicide suspects, and 75 percent of the victims had criminal records.

The plan also includes several other initiatives, such as tighter enforcement of laws in and around bars and liquor stores. But the crux of the plan is drugs, with Baltimore facing one of the worst narcotics problems of any American city.

Clark said the department previously attacked specific drug corners without tracking their business.

"District commanders declared hollow victories by assuming a criminal drug organization had been dismantled," the plans states, "when in fact it had moved only a short distance away."

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