When federal policy got in his way, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg found a way around it to combat illegal guns in his city. Mayor Sheila Dixon has learned a thing or two from Mr. Bloomberg. And now they're joining forces to better track the sources of illegal guns that drive much of the crime in their cities. It may seem like an odd pairing, but federal limitations on this critical data and the ease with which illegal guns move from state to state require a double-team approach.
The cities would share gun trace information that is collected by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and that until last year had been closely held by the federal agency. The data should help Baltimore and New York law enforcement track trends in illegal gun sales and, potentially, the sources of those guns. Closer to home, and as important as the Bloomberg-Dixon agreement, is a plan to centralize with the state police gun trace data recovered by local police in Maryland; two out of three illegal guns in Baltimore come from within the state. Taking guns off the street won't make a dent in crime if those guns can be easily replaced.
Mayor Dixon has made gun violence a centerpiece of her crime-fighting strategy. She established a special gun task force last May to supplement department gun seizures, which totaled 3,462 guns last year, an 11.6 percent increase over 2006. Special city police gun squads also are patrolling high-crime districts, and they appear to be having an impact. Since the patrols began in the Eastern and Western districts last July, homicides in the Eastern declined by 50 percent and shootings dropped 54 percent, compared with the preceding six months. The Western district saw similar gains.
But reducing gun violence in Baltimore isn't the responsibility of the Police Department alone. It's why Mayor Dixon has funded community outreach workers in McElderry Park and Union Square who mediate disputes that can lead to violence. It's why the administration has reached out to Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, whose prosecutors are demanding higher bail for suspected gun offenders and pushing to have gun offenders returned to prison when they violate their probation.
The progress is measurable. And if more judges would send gun offenders to prison - and not suspend their sentences - the city might have a fighting chance to sustain the recent gains it has made in reducing violence.