Connect the dots

August 29, 2007

Acharred porch on McKewin Avenue says more about the violence tearing at Baltimore than any police report or crime plan. It shows vividly why some criminals remain out of reach and conveys the lengths that people will go to silence a neighborhood, terrorize a witness and frustrate the prosecution of criminals.

Crime is the No. 1 issue on voters' minds this election season, and candidates running for city office should visit McKewin Avenue and see the scene of this crime.

The escalating murder count gets most of the attention, but making Baltimore a safer city isn't only about driving down the number of homicides. The target of the firebombing in Waverly had complained about drug dealers.

And that aspect of crime in Baltimore has gotten lost in the conversation and response to the city's dismal murder rate. The last police chief who spoke passionately about shutting down the drug trade - and the violence accompanying it - was Kevin P. Clark, and that was two years ago. If you listen to candidates and politicians today, gangs and gun violence are what ails the city.

Some neighborhoods clearly are afflicted by both, but more feel besieged by the traffic generated by one-stop-shopping drug corners. Others must contend with stickup men, who are actually boys with guns. And some feel threatened by brazen break-ins.

But much of Baltimore's crime is interrelated, and the city's crime fighting strategy has to reflect that dynamic.

Mayor Sheila Dixon canned the last police commissioner because she felt he wasn't up to the job and pledged a nationwide search for his replacement. And here's what it has produced so far, as reported by The Sun: a guy who's here doing the job as acting chief and a former chief in Washington who left as the new mayor moved in. That doesn't sound like much of a search.

The police commissioner may be the single most important appointment of the next administration. The right candidate should have a proven record and an understanding of Baltimore's brand of crime and the factors contributing to it. What's needed is someone who can connect the dots, articulate a crimefighting plan that inspires police and reassures communities, and then carry it out boldly - and responsibly.

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