Terror in the streets

Our view: FBI should focus on local crime

June 03, 2008

Amy Jo Lyons, the new special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore field office, believes she has her priorities in order. "Terrorism is at the top of the list," she said in a recent interview. "It is the top threat here in Baltimore." Ms. Lyons' bosses in Washington will be glad to hear that she has a clear understanding of her agency's primary focus since the tragedy of 9/11, but her choice is likely to be less inspirational to local officials.

There are plenty of likely terrorist targets in Baltimore's sprawling port and the federal facilities scattered across Maryland. Protecting them deserves thoughtful attention. But there is real criminal mayhem on city streets, and police and local prosecutors are struggling to contain a plague of drugs and murder. That here-and-now threat should be her first priority.

Ms. Lyons has arrived at a time when close cooperation among Maryland's U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, an array of state agencies and local police appears to be producing significant results. By targeting repeat offenders for federal prosecution and taking other coordinated steps, they have been successful in putting a growing number of Baltimore's most violent offenders behind bars. It's a strategy aimed at driving down the city's murder rate, and the results so far have been laudable.

But nobody is ready to declare victory or even substantial success in Baltimore's long war on crime. Ms. Lyons should recognize the primacy of that continuing challenge - her agents are already a part of it. Mr. Rosenstein also declared that terrorism was his top priority when he started his job three years ago. He knows better now and speaks proudly of the cooperative effort against violent street thugs here.

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