Community leaders from several Baltimore neighborhoods told Mayor Sheila Dixon last night that an increase in police foot patrols and more activities for young people would help deter crime.
The suggestions came during the first of four "emergency" meetings at City Hall called by Dixon this week to address Baltimore's crime woes - part of a broader effort to move the Police Department toward community policing. Defining the city's policing strategy, Dixon administration officials said, requires that the administration hear from community leaders about solutions to crime.
"There isn't an outcry, even though people are doing things," Dixon said in an interview afterward. "So I felt that I, as the leader of this city, needed to say, `Hey, wait a minute, let's talk about it.'"
Kelley Ray, a resident of the city's North Harford neighborhood, was one of about 50 attendees who spoke out. She said the department's Northeastern District suffers from an "extreme shortage" of police officers and that more foot patrols would help curtail crime there.
Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm, who attended the meeting, has endorsed a shift toward community policing and away from the zero-tolerance approach that was favored by former Mayor Martin O'Malley. Dixon has frequently promoted a more "holistic approach" to crime-fighting, including bringing in other city departments to target young criminals.
Dixon said the policy of community policing and employing more foot patrols is "evolving," She said that Hamm has been using new recruits to walk beats in their first six weeks on the job and efforts are being made so that more veteran officers will be joining the practice.
"It's a balance, and let me make this very clear," Dixon said, "we have to keep going after our most violent offenders in this community. On the other side, people want officers to be respectful."
When questioned by attendees about where the foot patrols would happen, Dixon said there are officers walking beats now in the Southern District and the Upton neighborhood.
"I called some police officers I know in Northwest and said, `Are y'all getting out your cars and walking around?' ... It's happening. You're going to see more of that," Dixon said during the meeting.
City officials banned cameras and recorders from the meetings because of concerns raised by residents over being recorded speaking out against crime in their neighborhoods, an indication of the fear that permeates many areas of the city and hinders investigators in solving crimes.
As of yesterday afternoon, there had been 61 homicides in the city this year - most of them from shootings. At the same time last year, the city had recorded 53 killings.
Police have also reported an increase in gun violence this year.
After a particularly bloody day last week that left four dead and three wounded by gunfire in a 24-hour-period, police officials said they are stepping up efforts to get guns off the streets, noting the seizure of about 100 illegal guns from criminals this month.
Other meetings are scheduled at 4 p.m. today with youth leaders, 7:30 p.m. tomorrow with educators and 4 p.m. Thursday with community religious leaders.
Sun reporters John Fritze and Dick Irwin contributed to this article.