Dixon stresses youth in crime fight

Offering choices in recreation centers and in education is crucial, mayor says

June 13, 2007|By Alia Malik | Alia Malik,sun reporter

Amid Baltimore's surge in crime, Mayor Sheila Dixon yesterday continued her effort to reassure neighborhoods.

Speaking at a forum sponsored by the Greater Homewood Community Corp., she outlined her wide-ranging strategy to counter the increase in crime and emphasized efforts to better reach the city's youth.

"When young people see that there are other opportunities and other choices that they make to become a productive citizen, I guarantee you they're not going to choose going out forming gangs or selling drugs," the mayor said during the community forum at Roland Park Presbyterian Church. "It's going to take all of us to bring about and really be the ministry, as I see it."

Violent crime, particularly homicides, has increased this year in the city. As of yesterday morning, 137 homicides had been recorded, compared with 118 during the same period last year.

The mayor's opponents in this year's campaign have sharply criticized her efforts and ideas to fight crime in recent weeks, specifically saying she has failed to do enough to fill vacant positions in the Police Department.

Education, recreation centers and after-school programs that keep young people off the street are essential to solving the crime problem, Dixon said, adding that the city's budget surplus is helping to fund many such efforts.

Each community needs to address its crime rates separately, she said, laying out a plan to profile each community to determine what it needs to reduce crime - whether that is education, job training, drug treatment, affordable housing or some combination of those.

Getting jobs for ex-felons is a key component in the fight against crime, Dixon said, a point emphasized yesterday when a man came up to her after she formally announced her candidacy for a full term as mayor.

"He said, `I am an ex-offender. I don't want to choose to go back into crime. I need a job. What can you do to help me?'" she said.

Dixon repeated her call from last month for tougher enforcement on guns, saying the city would introduce a gun registry but that state officials needed to take increased responsibility.

"We're asking the state to stop whining. We want our legislators to not allow the lobbyists to control them but to come down hard" on gun criminals, she said.

The registry would be only for those convicted of gun crimes, said Sheryl Goldstein, who directs the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice.

Although the mayor praised police overtime spending cuts in April, Goldstein said that each police district will add one sergeant and five officers who will each work one shift of overtime five days a week. Goldstein could not say how much this will cost in additional overtime.

After Dixon spoke, many who attended the forum said they felt the mayor was taking steps in the right direction.

"This is a hard problem, but it's not unsolvable," said Karen Stokes, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp.

Michelle Blue, executive director of the Follow Your Dreams Youth Center, an after-school program in Harwood, said it would take more than words to reassure her.

"A conversation doesn't put me at ease, you know," said Blue, who said some of the youth she works with are exposed to gang violence.

"I would like to give the mayor a chance," Blue said. "She's only been there for five months."

alia.malik@baltsun.com

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