The Bealefeld way works for Baltimore

Commissioner's strong, consistent leadership has made a difference, ought to be emulated

May 04, 2012|By A.B. Krongard, John Luetkemeyer Jr. and Thomas E. Wilcox

As leaders of the Baltimore Police Foundation, a fund of the Baltimore Community Foundation, we salute CommissionerFrederick H. Bealefeld III's enlightened and highly effective leadership. All who are interested in the progress of Baltimore owe him a debt of gratitude. Many will point to his signal achievement as the drastic reduction in homicides — 2011 saw fewer than 200 killings for the first time in two decades — but this, while desirable, is not a fair indicator of police performance.

The overwhelming majority of homicides fall into one of three categories: targeted killings, drug turf battles or crimes behind closed doors involving people well known to each other and often residing in the same household. Police can solve the crimes but can do little to prevent them. A broader look at 2011 data provides a much more telling appraisal of the department's efficiency and performance.

Arrests declined during Commissioner Bealefeld's tenure, from 89,252 in 2007 to 56,606 in 2011, while in the same period violent crime overall dropped more than 14 percent. Most notably, juvenile homicides were down more than 92 percent in that time; nonfatal shootings dropped by more than 70 percent; aggravated assault declined by more than 19 percent; and robberies were down by more than 12 percent.

Plainly put, our citizens, old and young, can now more comfortably and safely sit on their stoops, walk our streets and live in a safer environment. We still have a long way to go, but the improvement has been extraordinary. These are the driving factors toward making our city a safer place to live, work and play.

Mayor Rawlings-Blakehas a big challenge ahead of her as she seeks a replacement for Commissioner Bealefeld. One has only to look at the sheer number of men who have had the job in the past two decades. The quasi-military nature of police work requires strong, consistent and articulate leadership at the top. The rank and file who risk their lives and endure challenging working conditions, constant stress and routine second guessing deserve no less. It is imperative that our recent gains be institutionalized and the policies and procedures now in place be used as the basis for continuing positive momentum.

The criteria for selecting the new commissioner are straightforward. We must choose the best person based on his or her intelligence, demonstrated leadership, experience, integrity and command presence. The Baltimore Police Department's next leader must be provided with a clearly defined organizational structure that delineates the chain of command between the mayor and the commissioner and insulates the commissioner against political interference or pressure. Obviously, this does not mean giving anyone in the job a free rein, or disregarding responsibility to other constituencies, including the City Council or the citizenry.

Make the selection, agree on the metrics by which the person will be judged, agree on the resources to be provided (both financial and nonfinancial) — and then let the selectee do the job. In addition to traditional police skill sets, modern policing demands competence with technology, sociology, data mining and public communication. Fred Bealefeld has personified these traits, and the department's results under his command reflect the importance of such skill sets in its leadership. Add to this his commitment to Baltimore and our Police Department — shown in 31 years of service and honed by three generations of Baltimore police officers in his family — and his success is understandable and even, to some degree, predictable. His persona makes a good template for selecting our next commissioner.

Police work demands the dedication of men and women willing to subject themselves to crazy hours, everyday threats of violence, extreme weather conditions and onerous procedures. In exchange for accepting these burdens, they are guaranteed the opportunity to remain in "the 99 percent."

Without their work, we have no hope of building that sense of community which we seek. At the very least, we owe them the best leadership at the top we can find.

A.B. Krongard and John Luetkemeyer Jr. are co-chairs of the Baltimore Police Foundation. Thomas E. Wilcox is president of the Baltimore Community Foundation. His email is twilcox@bcf.org.

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