Reducing homicides

Our view: A police effort to target violence-prone offenders helps cut murders in Baltimore

it is showing promise because more than the city police are involved

October 17, 2008

It takes more than the Baltimore police to stop the killing here. That's not a slam at Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III or the team he has put together to lead the fight. The murder rate in the city has continued - remarkably - to decline, and the progress has as much to do with the police entrenched in violence-torn neighborhoods as the numbers of state agents dogging probationers with a history of violence. What's changed under Mr. Bealefeld is the level of cooperation between city, state and federal law enforcement. It's significant and substantive, and it's making all the difference in preventing violence.

If the pace of murders stays on track, Baltimore could close out the year with the steepest decline in homicides in two decades. That would be quite an accomplishment after a decade of hit-or-miss efforts to stop the killing and the strained relationships between elected and appointed officials that predate the administration of Mayor Sheila Dixon.

As of yesterday, the number of homicides in the city was 173, compared with 241 at this time last year.

The police commissioner's strategy relies on robust intelligence-gathering that alerts street cops to potentially dangerous suspects and puts more police in districts most plagued by violence. Integral to its operation is an intensive state probation program that monitors five days a week ex-offenders identified as the most violent and moves to revoke their probation for the least infraction. As of mid-September, the Department of Parole and Probation's violence prevention unit had issued 221 warrants for such clients.

Central to the strategy's success is a tag-team approach that enlists prosecutors in helping arrest and convict targeted suspects. Within 24 hours of an arrest, state or federal officials are deciding who would best prosecute a case. That kind of seamless cooperation has enabled federal prosecutors to detain or convict 30 suspects in six months. State prosecutors have achieved similar results.

Prior to this past year, the police commissioner's office has been a revolving door. Too many came and went too quickly, and those departures compromised the level of the department's crime-fighting. Priorities shifted, policies changed. Mr. Bealefeld, a department veteran, served under all who came before him. When Mayor Dixon was looking for a chief last year, Mr. Bealefeld could have easily retired, collected his pension and begun a second career. But he wanted the job because he believed he could make a difference.

Reducing homicides is improving the quality of life in violence-prone neighborhoods, and Mr. Bealefeld would be the first to say the progress is not his alone.

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