Dixon outlines city crime-fighting plan

Police to focus on guns, most dangerous offenders

Mayor's initiatives mark a departure from zero tolerance


May 01, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN REPORTER

After a deadly weekend with six city homicides, Mayor Sheila Dixon outlined yesterday her long-awaited crime-fighting strategy, which includes targeting the most dangerous offenders, cracking down on illegal guns and strengthening community partnerships.

Many of the proposals expand on existing initiatives, such as the city's safe zones, and resurrect old crime-fighting strategies, such as zeroing in on Baltimore's most violent offenders - an approach heralded by noted criminologist David Kennedy, who worked with the city in the late 1990s and was consulted on the current plan.

Dixon's strategy is a departure from the zero-tolerance policies of the previous administration, which led some to complain that too many citizens were being wrongfully arrested.

Standing beside the new mayor, Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said the strategy of the O'Malley administration was "the right strategy at that time ... because there was a difference on the streets."

"This is the right strategy for this administration because the streets now, we believe, are manageable," Hamm said. "Still violent, but manageable."

Dixon said the policies were developed by taking the "best practices" from around the country, consulting local and national experts.

A list of "good news" statistics showed that Dixon's strategies - many already in practice - have coincided with an overall 17 percent drop in violent crime during her first 100 days. Police reported seizing 881 illegal guns.

No immediate mention was made of the city's persistent number of homicides, which reached 91 last night, compared with 88 at the same time last year.

When asked about the unrelenting statistics, Dixon said, "I believe that the homicide rate will go down as a result of this plan."

She noted the events of the weekend.

"If you watched the news this weekend, as I did, we had somewhat of a violent weekend," Dixon said. "Could it have been avoided? I don't believe [that] unless we get a hold and handle on illegal guns in our city that it can be avoided."

Dixon and Hamm plan to elaborate on her gun policy at a news conference tomorrow.

Paul Blair Jr., head of the city's police union, criticized the fact that no mention was made of the department being short-staffed.

"I didn't hear anything about bringing the Baltimore Police Department up to full strength," he said.

According to statistics provided by the labor commissioner two weeks ago, the Police Department has 2,932 officers when it should have 3,200, Blair said.

"They're trying to reinvent the wheel again," he said. "We've had all these programs. They're all great ideas, but you've got to have the men and women who are out on the streets to do all of this. Who's to do it?"

Though they made no mention of staffing levels, Hamm and Dixon hailed efforts to curb police overtime spending, down 57 percent so far this year.

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stood with Dixon at the news conference and expressed support for the mayor's strategy.

"We are committed to working with the commissioner, especially through this budget season, to seek creative ways to use our resources to make sure we address violent crime in the city," said Rawlings-Blake. "I think there's an opportunity for us to work together for the ... greater good of the city, and we're certainly looking forward to a thorough ... examination of this violent crime strategy."

Acknowledging that battling crime in one of America's deadliest cities is not a "quick fix," Dixon said she will attack the culture of crime on all fronts.

"The short-term fix is not going to solve it," she said. "It's important to look at this in totality.

"So I have two goals when it comes to law enforcement: protecting our citizens from the most violent criminals and giving our communities the resources they need to overcome long-term social challenges."

The expansion of the city's safe zones, dubbed Operation Protect, began last month and entails expanding their 10-block perimeter by a quarter-mile. Instead of just blocking off the area and flooding it with police, the new approach will include partnering with community groups and other city agencies to get residents' help with everything from housing and employment to drug treatment.

There are currently two zones, one in Park Heights in Northwest Baltimore, and another in the Southeast district, near McElderry Park.

Another new initiative, to be kicked off May 15, will target 30 blocks, identified by police, in an Adopt-a-Block program. An officer will be assigned to the block for regular visits, aiming to get to know residents and business owners and serve as a deterrent to crime.

Dixon is also resurrecting the Police Department's Youth Services Division to focus on juveniles and crime affecting and committed by them. One officer from each district will be assigned to the division.

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