For years, Baltimore police leaders credited steep reductions in shootings to aggressive policing first in three and eventually four large geographic zones with a history of violence. One zone in East Baltimore stretched more than three miles long.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts on Tuesday announced a plan to refocus those efforts, increasing the number of enforcement zones to 17 while reducing their size. The change, planned with a team of academic researchers, is intended to allow officers to focus more directly on trouble spots.
"What we're doing here is taking best practices from an empirical data standpoint, looking at Baltimore and what has worked for us, and expanding it," Batts said at a news conference with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the intersection of 28th Street and Hugo Avenue.
Two men have been gunned down at the intersection since the fall and another shot just blocks away, Batts said, adding, "This is not commonplace. This is not acceptable."
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and one of the academics consulted by Batts, said the new zones are based on the work of Harvard and Rutgers professor Anthony Braga, who also sat on the panel of experts.
Braga's research, Webster said, has found that crime is often "ultra-concentrated" in what he calls "micro-spaces" that can span just a couple of blocks.
Webster said officials need to consider a range of issues that can contribute to crime.
"There might be a problematic alcohol outlet, or a set of vacant homes that are prime setups for crime, or a housing project that is poorly run with no security."
The police union and many elected leaders have been clamoring for a broader redrawing of patrol boundaries, which hasn't been done in decades despite significant changes in population. Batts has that on his to-do list, but there's no timetable.
Under former Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, the agency's now-defunct Violent Crimes Impact Section of plainclothes officers roamed large swaths of West, East and Northwest Baltimore. Responding to a crime spike, police officials created another enforcement zone in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello area.
When he arrived in 2012, Batts renamed and stripped down the VCIS unit in response to community complaints — a move that may have had the unintended consequence of exacerbating a spike in fatal shootings, he has acknowledged in recent interviews.
Batts declined to identify the new enforcement zones, saying that "criminals read the newspaper," but identified a 10-block corridor along Monument Street in East Baltimore as one example. Batts said the zones will be policed with a mix of different units, which will be closely watching designated "violent repeat offenders."
"We're keeping them a mile, to a mile-and-a-half square," Batts said. "Sometimes it's not the entire zone, it's a piece of the zone."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun