Schools hold key to reducing city crime

  • Where he came from: Baltimore Deputy commissioner - operations Bealefeld was well-known after being a very visible deputy commissioner, and had built community support and wanted the job. He had joined the agency at age 18, and worked various units and commanded the Southern District. But Mayor Sheila Dixon, amid a soaring homicide rate, was pressed to hire an outsider. Charles Ramsey, the former chief in Washington, D.C., had signed a contract before Dixon at the last minute bucked her advisers, rescinding Ramsey's deal and offering Bealefeld the job. Bealefeld oversaw steep crime declines, with homicides dipping below 200 to give the city its lowest murder rate since the late 1980s, and reversed zero tolerance policies of his predecessors.
Where he came from: Baltimore Deputy commissioner - operations… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
May 11, 2012

Retiring Baltimore Police CommissionerFrederick H. Bealefeld III, who is stepping down after serving five years in that capacity, has been capable, funny and relevant. His "Old School" phrasing of calling criminals "knuckleheads," "morons," and "bad guys with guns" is accurate, funny and relevant. He could also use another word, "dropouts." Yes, I said it — dropouts! And it appears the younger the criminal offender and the more serious the crime, the more likely that person is a school dropout.

Statistics are not kept on offenders who have dropped out of school; that might detract from the high praise for Maryland's No. 1 rating and the "improved" Baltimore public schools. However, other urban cities have the same draconian statistics. Until urban schools begin to focus on what is best for the student and not for schools by preparing them (usually African-American males) for responsible citizenship, these "menaces to society" will continue to plague Baltimore and other urban areas. Unfortunately, urban school systems are driven by test results, yet the failure of the schools are blamed on the students.

To reverse this trend, we need curricula sensitive to the interest and capabilities of the student. This can be identified by giving middle school students career interest surveys and developing education plans so they can achieve career and work opportunities. A few schools, nationally and locally, have resurrected traditional vocational-education models, created innovative ways to achieve state standards and provide graduates opportunities to achieve career success by attending four-year colleges, universities and beyond.

For example, some schools modeling student success are Baltimore's Green Street Academy, High Tech High Schools in San Diego and San Marcos, California, and the Al Kennedy Alternative High School in Cottage Grove, Oregon. There is a waiting list of students for slots in one of Massachusetts 60 vocational and technical schools. It is time for middle schools to start followingBooker T. Washington's advice: "Train a man to use his mind and not his hands and you train half a man." What better way to rebuild urban areas than with today's youth? Why shouldn't females, again, be required to take home economics in middle school? And what of health? How about state standardized tests in health in high school and physical education class, especially in the elementary school where so many youngsters are being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder?

Mr. Bealefeld is right in describing so many criminals as "morons," "knuckleheads," and "bad guys with guns." But just because he is retiring, there is no need for the demise of educational systems who might better prepare today's youth for responsible citizenship, and responsible parenthood for tomorrow.

Walter Gill, Baltimore

The writer is an adjunct professor in the College of Education at Towson University.

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