Dixon on crime

May 03, 2007

Police in Southwest Baltimore found Larry Brockington lying on the street early yesterday morning. He was homicide victim No. 93, and he died as most of Baltimore's murder victims die - from gunshots. The city's rising murder rate is enough to warrant a greater focus on gun violence by City Hall. But Mayor Sheila Dixon's new anti-crime strategy, announced this week, isn't really new at all. It's perhaps the best of past enforcement and community policing efforts with an ambitious attempt to get tough on illegal guns.

It's that last part that distinguishes her proposal from that of her predecessor, Martin O'Malley, who pushed New York's "attack crime at every level" strategy, leading to a steady decline in violent crime but also alienating some communities.

Ms. Dixon's decision to include neighborhoods in the fight against crime by financially supporting local gang prevention programs and providing needed social assistance to communities is an important shift because it seeks to improve relations between the police and city residents. And that relationship simply must get better - because without citizens cooperating with police and testifying in court, law enforcement won't be able to take the worst criminals off the street, convict them and imprison them.

FOR THE RECORD - An editorial yesterday misstated the findings of a Johns Hopkins study on city initiatives to reduce illegal gun sales. Chicago and Detroit had declines of 62 percent and 36 percent, respectively, but Gary, Ind., saw no similar drop. The Sun regrets the error.

And the most serious crimes involve guns, which is why Ms. Dixon is focusing on illegal gun sales. It makes sense: When Boston focused on illegal gun sales as part of its crime-fighting plan in the late 1990s, gun trafficking dropped by 25 percent. And when Johns Hopkins researchers reviewed similar programs in Chicago, Detroit and Gary, Ind., they found a 62 percent drop in illegal gun sales.

In Baltimore, the same focus could mean fewer guns in the hands of criminals. The state police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have agreed to join the city in its effort to trace illegal guns, and the mayor's crime plan includes a "gun version" of CitiStat to provide a measure of accountability.

In developing her anti-crime plan, Ms. Dixon reinforced relations with the city's state and federal partners, and she wasn't afraid to incorporate popular programs from the past, such as Operation Safe Neighborhoods, a favorite of State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. It brought her ready allies.

The violence in Baltimore defies any one crime-fighting strategy. But Ms. Dixon is trying to build on law enforcement's successes, correct some missteps and invest as many players in her program as possible. It's a credible start, but one that depends on many participants to succeed. That could be its strength - or its weakness.

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