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The Baltimore Sun

New cards, DVD put message from police in hands of suspects

Sun Staff

Baltimore police aren't just looking to arrest criminals anymore, they'retrying to get inside their heads.

Officers are distributing cards designed to intimidate suspects arrested inEast Baltimore, and the department is developing a video to counter a recentDVD in which potential witnesses are threatened. The Baltimore PoliceDepartment is even thinking about placing officers atop lifeguard chairs inthe most violent parts of the city.

"It's psychological warfare," said Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm."It's part of the crime plan to target violent people."

Much of the campaign is modeled after military tactics to demoralize andinfluence an enemy, and many say it demonstrates a local shift toward a styleof policing that promotes direct dialogue among police, criminals andembattled communities. It also adds a new dimension to Baltimore'slong-running struggle to reduce shootings and killings.

The city recorded 278 homicides last year, more than any other city ofsimilar size.

"We don't think we can win over hard-core criminals with a 3-by-5 card or aDVD," said police spokesman Matt Jablow, "but we can make a difference withthe people who are teetering."

Police have identified the three areas with the most homicides andshootings - in Northwest Baltimore, East Baltimore and West Baltimore. Policeare swarming to those sections. At times, those parts of the city are floodedby 10 to 15 officers where perhaps one patrolled previously.

The new police commissioner also is pushing intelligence-driven policingthat targets specific people in addition to areas.

In many ways, the new philosophy mirrors recent efforts in Boston, saidJean McGloin, a University of Maryland criminologist. Starting in themid-1990s, police, clergy and other leaders there called regular meetings ofsuspected gang members. They told the men to start receiving assistance fromsocial services and give up crime, or they would be hounded by police.

Such actions build on a widely held philosophy in policing: People makedeliberate decisions to commit crimes, and those decisions can be influencedby altering their environment, McGloin said.

An example of such influence is heightening the perceived risk ofcommitting crimes. Police do that by installing surveillance cameras,increasing street lighting or pushing a message that more police are on thestreets, she said.

Stern warning

So as the 173 detectives of the department's organized crime division hitthe streets in East Baltimore, they do so armed with cards that carry a sternmessage conceived by Chief Anthony Barksdale.

One side states: "By any legal means necessary."

The other reads, "You were arrested today in a community that will nolonger tolerate the violence that has plagued it for generations. Moreofficers are on patrol in this key area than ever before. The Baltimore PoliceDepartment will not reduce its enforcement until the violence stops. Spreadthe word."

On a recent night, officers searching a home in the 2400 block of E.Madison St. handcuffed three middle-aged women as police scoured the rowhousefor cocaine.

The women sat on the couch, their hands behind their back and the cardsresting atop their thighs. One said she couldn't read it.

"When you put your glasses on, you're going to have to read that card,"said Deputy Maj. Dean Palmere. "It tells you what's going on in yourcommunity." For example, he said, people breaking the law have a greaterchance of being arrested because of increased enforcement.

The program reminds Allison B. Gilmore - the author of a book aboutpsychological warfare - of the United States' and Gen. Douglas MacArthur'sefforts to win over the Philippines during World War II.

When MacArthur temporarily left the islands, American planes droppedleaflets promising he would return - and that people who collaborated with theJapanese would be punished and those who supported the Americans would berewarded.

Gilmore, a history professor at Ohio State University, Lima, said that muchlike military leaflets, the police cards aim to demoralize the enemy whilewinning over civilians.

"It's a long-term process of developing credibility," she said. "It's notgoing to change people's thinking in a couple weeks or a couple months.They're going to have to really follow through."

Some doubt whether such efforts can work in law enforcement.

"There is nothing wrong with the police business being on the lookout forgood ideas, but I think we have to be concerned when too much energy is beingspent on [public relations] machinations rather than on public safety," saidEugene O'Donnell, a professor at the City University of New York's John JayCollege of Criminal Justice and a former New York police officer andprosecutor.

City police spokesman Jablow said the costs are minimal. The cards costabout $300, and the DVDs will cost about $1,300, he said.

Other efforts

Several other recent efforts by the Baltimore police also havepsychological aspects, department leaders said. The city is installingwell-marked surveillance cameras in high-crime areas. Its helicopter officershave been shining spotlights on known drug-dealing corners. And the departmentmight place officers with binoculars in lifeguard chairs, where they can loomover drug dealers.

"We want them to look over their shoulder," Hamm said. "We want them toknow we're watching."

Police officials soon expect to begin distributing 1,000 DVDs with theiranswer to Stop Snitching, a locally produced DVD that gained nationwideattention. The video featured professional basketball star Carmelo Anthonyand, for many, was a disturbing reminder of the city's chronic trouble withwitness intimidation. Throughout the 90-minute video, men with guns and drugsthreaten the lives of people who "snitch" to police. Anthony has said he wasunaware of video's message.

The police response - titled Keep Talking - is 90 seconds. It featuresscenes from Stop Snitching, video of people in handcuffs, and background musicfrom the hip-hop song "Shook Ones," which is slang for a rattled criminal.

It opens with police Agent Donny Moses saying, "The men and women of theBaltimore Police Department would like to thank the producers of the StopSnitching video. In case you didn't know, you've made Baltimore a safer city."

The images of two people in Stop Snitching flash onto the screen, followedby bold letters stating the criminal charges they face.

Gilmore, the military propaganda professor, said the most effectivepropaganda is specific and factually supported. Police say the video showsthat they are backing up their word to crack down on targeted peopleresponsible for violence.

Experts say it's crucial for the police to support their psychologicalcampaign with physical presence.

"If MacArthur had never showed up again," Gilmore said, "nobody would haveever listened to the Americans."

To view a portion of the Keep Talking video, please go

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