Whatever it takes

June 03, 2007

With the murder rate in Baltimore unseasonably high and summer nearing, the administration of Mayor Sheila Dixon should be bracing for a busy July and August. City officials are looking to free up police officers from routine traffic patrols and rely on help from state law enforcement to fill the gap.

That shows some foresight, resourcefulness - and an acute awareness of the approaching election campaign season. Violent crime may be down in Baltimore, but unless the murders defiling city neighborhoods start declining, the city will be on pace to hit 300 homicides by year's end.

Of course, there's no magic formula for curtailing the murders, which as of Friday totaled 124 - a dozen more than last year at this time. But if the theory holds that the city's murders are attributable to a revolving subset of known criminals, law enforcement must consistently, aggressively and relentlessly pursue them.

And when suspects are convicted of their second, third or fourth crime, judges should impose the stiffest sentences prosecutors recommend. When Edwin Wright came before a city judge last week, he was to be sentenced on two drug convictions. But because he had four previous drug convictions and two incidents of violence, prosecutors recommended 25 years with no parole - and he got it. That's what he deserved.

The Police Department's vacancies contribute to the problem. Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's proposal to launch a police recruitment drive with $2 million in reserve funds won't address the immediate need, was late in coming - the agency hasn't been fully staffed since 2002 - and was announced just as a contender for her job kicked off his campaign.

But at least it focuses on a chronic problem. And if Mayor Dixon expects to expand "safe zones" to areas of Park Heights and McElderry Park, that will require more police on the street.

The decision of the Maryland Transit Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority to assign some of their police to patrol city highways will undoubtedly assist Baltimore police in planning for the summer. But Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm should also look to the new Maryland State Police superintendent, Terrence B. Sheridan, for help. A partnership between the city and state on this pressing problem would be a boost for Baltimore, and a timely new focus for state police.

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