City police `back in partnership' with U.S. on gun prosecutions

December 02, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

In announcing the recent arrest of three heavily armed suspects, acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm declared yesterday that more gun-carrying city criminals should expect to face federal prosecution and the tougher sentences that typically ensue.

"We're back in partnership with the federal government," Hamm said. "Those bridges have been restored."

Police leaders also said yesterday that the undercover unit formed by former Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark largely to target drug dealers will shift some of its focus to gun arrests.

Hamm's remarks about federal prosecutors mark a significant change in tenor from the comments of his boss, Mayor Martin O'Malley. In the months preceding Clark's firing, the Democratic mayor and his police commissioner frequently stood side-by-side as O'Malley criticized Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio for his record on gun prosecution.

O'Malley has said he wants DiBiagio to pursue more federal gun charges because federal juries tend to be tougher on crime, and federal prisons do not offer parole. Federal prosecutors also have a higher conviction rate than their state counterparts, creating a deterrent to criminals, O'Malley has said.

And by taking cases to the federal government, O'Malley's city government can have fewer dealings with State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, with whom the mayor has long had a strained relationship.

Halfway through this year, O'Malley publicly complained that DiBiagio had prosecuted 60 gun cases compared with 120 at the corresponding point last year.

DiBiagio could not be reached for comment last night, though he has not recently altered his public comments on gun prosecutions. Federal officials have said the number of prosecutions was unusually high last year. They also said they work with city police and city prosecutors to determine what jurisdiction should take a case.

O'Malley said last night in a written statement: "We would welcome more gun prosecutions from the U.S. Attorney. We should use all the resources at our disposal to get killers off our streets."

Hamm said the federal prosecutor has agreed to try the three men arrested Tuesday night in East Baltimore with an Uzi 9 mm machine pistol and two 9 mm handguns. "We'll be doing it more," Hamm said.

Tuesday arrests

On Tuesday, members of the Police Department's organized crime division received a tip and responded about 7:20 p.m. to the 1200 block of E. Oliver St.

They arrested Kinshausa Smith, 23, Lamont Crooks, 35, and Troy Jackson, 25, who were riding in a Saab, police said. They also seized the weapons and three ninja-style face masks.

Police said the men, charged with weapons violations, are suspected of largely targeting drug dealers in robberies.

Hamm, who took over Nov. 10, and his commanders also said yesterday that gun seizures have become a larger point of emphasis for the organized crime division.

The unit -- which had more than 250 officers under Clark, but is likely to decrease in size -- was the centerpiece of Clark's plan for combating the drug trade. O'Malley hired Clark from New York last year to eradicate open-air drug markets.

Under Clark, the number of undercover officers grew, and the tactics shifted from conducting surveillance on drug dealers to making undercover purchases. The goal was to make court cases with better witnesses.

Clark emphasis

Clark also emphasized pursuit of street-level dealers, with hopes of using their knowledge to arrest larger drug distributors. His tactics led to an increase in felony drug indictments.

Anthony Barksdale, acting chief of the organized crime division, said yesterday that his officers still will make undercover drug buys but will target specific drug dealers and organizations.

"They're not stopped or anything like that," he said of undercover buys. "It's just that I believe they should be done with precision."

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