City Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III told about 50 community leaders at police headquarters that he was committed to getting Baltimore's most violent criminals off the streets through an increased and targeted concentration on gun offenders.
Last night's forum was Bealefeld's first meeting with community leaders since becoming commissioner. Focusing much of his hourlong presentation on the homicide count, Bealefeld's strategy centered on arresting criminals who illegally possess handguns, tracking them through the criminal justice system.
As of yesterday, homicides had increased nearly 9 percent from a year ago. Bealefeld said police have arrested about 130 people in those crimes, and half of those suspects had previous handgun violations.
Bealefeld said he will advocate for harsher penalties, not just probation, for those caught possessing guns illegally.
"Imagine, if those 65 people didn't commit murder this year, where we would be," Bealefeld said. "That's how it can work. It translates into real homicide savings."
Officers from each district attended last night's meeting, mingling with community members before Bealefeld's presentation. A Police Department spokesman said Bealefeld had wanted to meet individually with each of the nearly 200 community associations but instead choose the forum to address concerns.
Bealefeld highlighted police arrests of several people under his tenure who were charged with carrying deadly weapons and remain in jail under hefty bail.
"If you want to carry a gun on my streets in my city, your tail goes to jail," Bealefeld said.
Bealefeld also said he wants specific crime-fighting strategies in each district.
"It's not a one-size-fits-all strategy," Bealefeld said. "We want to have a crime plan that's consistent with your neighborhood."
Oscar Cobbs, president of the Southern Team, an organization that tries to unite Park Heights residents, said he would like to see Bealefeld focus on building a stronger relationship between the police and the community.
"I want that relationship to be one of inclusiveness with the street officers," Cobbs said.
Bealefeld agreed. He said the biggest revitalization since he has taken office has come in education and training.
"I have to train cops better to be able to talk to people in the neighborhoods," Bealefeld said. "I want to see them step out of cars, walk up and talk to people. The only way to solve problems in our neighborhood is to get out of our cars."
Bealefeld, 45, began his law enforcement career a quarter-century ago in Baltimore's Western District and has worked for 10 commissioners.
Mayor Sheila Dixon nominated Bealefeld as commissioner early last month, and he was confirmed by the 15-member council last week.
Dixon selected Bealefeld as acting commissioner to replace Leonard D. Hamm, who was asked to resign in July during a spike in homicides. Bealefeld was the deputy commissioner of operations at the time and was largely responsible for the department's day-to-day management.
The monthly average of homicides has slowed since the summer and is now on pace to be fewer than 300.
Bealefeld said that total crime is down 7 percent from a year ago, although shootings are up 6 percent.