Arrests aren't enough

Going after 'bad guys with guns' helps, but it won't solve Baltimore's crime epidemic

December 27, 2009|By Doug Ward

Although it is very important to make good court cases, get good convictions and get long sentences for "bad guys with guns," it does not solve the larger issue: kids growing up to be bad guys with guns. There aren't enough prisons to incarcerate our way out of this predicament.

We must take a serious look at prevention. Yes, prevention. How can we better keep kids from becoming criminals? How can we instill hope into our youth? How can we create healthy communities?

The answers aren't unknown - they are just hard to implement.

Healthy residents. The root causes of teen disorder start in the womb. Prenatal care, parenting skills, nutrition, health care, early childhood education: All can avoid many problems later in life. Continued family support and quality educational experiences throughout childhood greatly increase the chances for a successful life. After-school programs, athletics and positive adult role models continue the chances for success through adolescence.

Drug treatment must be better provided to addicts. Drug addiction must be treated as a health issue as well as a criminal justice issue. Drug treatment, along with job counseling, and mental health counseling and treatment, can successfully help people become productive members of the community and can make them better parents, better adolescents, and better friends and neighbors.

Good jobs, training and job placement programs strengthen communities and make them more resilient to crime. People are encouraged to get ahead through meaningful work instead of criminal enterprises. The city must attract businesses and industry to provide jobs that will enable the middle class to remain in neighborhoods and not flee to the suburbs. Residents must attain adequate education and job-skills training to attract businesses and industry. A good education leads to a good job.

Education must provide life skills, a sense of community and a place of safety for its students. Students must be fed, clothed and ready to learn each morning. Parents and grandparents start the process and must be provided with training in parenting skills where needed to make sure the children go to school prepared to learn. Once in school, teachers must have the skills to teach and manage the classroom. Principals must have skills to provide leadership and discipline to make schools work well in an orderly and sane manner.

A healthy police department. The Baltimore Police Department needs stable, competent leadership capable of working with residents, businesses, other governmental agencies and not-for-profit organizations to implement long-term solutions to complex problems. Leaders must be able to gain the trust of people in the community and must be able to restore morale and pride in front-line officers. Leaders need to create an organization standing out as one of the best in the nation and one in which a prospective police officer would be proud to serve.

The organization should police with the community, not police to it. Police patrols in communities with officers known by and in touch with residents get the best results. Police officers should receive credit for solving problems in creative ways in lieu of being solely judged on statistical outputs.

The police department cannot solve the crime problem alone. It must immediately repair the strained relationship with the State's Attorney's Office and must work more closely with the state police, federal agencies, and city and regional organizations to address crime.

Police should target violent offenders, illegal guns, gangs, internal corruption - and should mend relationships with residents through their direct involvement in after-school programs and positive community interactions. Officers need to know and be known by people living in communities. Ordinary people supply much of the information used to solve crimes. People in communities should not be alienated through improperly applied "zero tolerance" policies or from police officers who do not truly care about the community residents.

Healthy relationships among organizations. As mentioned above, the strained relationship between the Baltimore police and the State's Attorney's Office must be repaired. The police need to improve the quality of their investigations, and the prosecutors need to pursue cases vigorously. Putting violent criminals behind bars must be a shared goal among residents, police and prosecutors.

Once behind bars, the jail and prisons must support ongoing intelligence and provide job skills and drug treatment programs that work. Inmates released back into communities must be supported by a better system of parole and probation. All must work together to create a system of criminal justice that works.

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