The new commissioner

October 07, 2007

In 76 days, Frederick H. Bealefeld III convinced Mayor Sheila Dixon that he was the cop to lead the Baltimore Police Department's fight for a safer city. He did it with the street smarts of a police veteran, the decisiveness of a man in charge, the support of his troops and a drop in the murders and shootings that have devastated too many communities.

An impressive start, but now the new police commissioner must turn that short-term success into long-term gains for a city beset by crime.

Since he was named acting commissioner on July 20, Mr. Bealefeld has been an articulate, impassioned advocate for a crime strategy that focuses on taking illegal guns off the street, pursuing the most violent offenders and restoring foot patrols to neighborhoods at risk.

As an officer who worked his way up through the ranks, Mr. Bealefeld has the advantage of intimate knowledge of the city and its social problems, a first-name familiarity with others on the police force, and strong relationships with federal and state partners who are critical to the mission.

Perhaps more important, he brings stability to a department that has seen its share of outsiders - with some dismal results - and a sense of confidence in Baltimore's own.

Mayor Dixon deserves credit for choosing the candidate she felt was the best person for the job, regardless of skin color. But in a majority-African-American city where relations with police are critical to solving crimes and convicting the guilty, Mr. Bealefeld should promote diversity in the ranks.

First, though, he has to attack two thorny internal problems: vacancies that can't be filled and recruits who can't pass the civil service exams. And he's not going to be able to rely on a fat overtime budget to cover the loss.

The last police commissioner from the ranks was fired after 57 days. That was in 2000, and the new mayor and his newly minted police chief couldn't agree on how to fight crime.

Mr. Bealefeld doesn't have that problem: He's working off a plan that reflects the mayor's concerns about reducing crime and uplifting communities. But Mr. Bealefeld can't be the lonely man at the top; everyone in the criminal justice system has a role to play in the city's success.

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