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News Maryland Baltimore Crime Beat

Baltimore police 'Public Enemy No. 1' becomes outreach tool

At a news conference convened on a bluff overlooking the photogenic Inner Harbor, two top-ranking Baltimore police commanders stood before a bank of television cameras and revealed the identity of a shooting suspect they were seeking.

They called him Baltimore's "Public Enemy No. 1." And less than an hour later, Jamal Williams was in handcuffs.

This summer, police quickly arrested all three of the men they have given the "public enemy" distinction, a most-wanted program established to nab dangerous suspects and elicit more public cooperation in a city known for witness intimidation and "no snitching" street codes. They have designed posters and made a media push to highlight the top fugitives.

"This is a tool we're going to continue to utilize," Baltimore police Lt. Eric Kowalczyk said. "It helps us keep the community engaged and gets the community to help us reduce violent crime in the city. It sends a strong message to criminals: We're going to find you."

Rolled out amid a spike in gun violence and robberies in a city where half of open murder cases remain unsolved, the public-enemy program also has some observers cautioning that splashy arrests alone will not be enough to reassure the public about Baltimore's pervasive crime problems.

Police union President Robert F. Cherry, who has been critical of the way Baltimore police release public information, said the department should do more to inform neighborhoods of crimes that affect them in "real time," such as property damage and assaults.

Still, he said, the public-enemy program helps to engage city residents.

"What this does highlight is that we want community involvement," he said. "We want people to call in with tips."

Federal authorities and other police agencies have employed "most-wanted" programs for decades, and say they help to draw public attention toward cases in which dangerous fugitives are at large.

Baltimore police offer tipsters anonymity in exchange for information about the whereabouts of fugitives; members of the public can even send messages through Twitter with the hashtag #PublicEnemyNumber1.

Williams, 20, whose last known address was in the 1500 block of Lochwood Road, was arrested Monday afternoon — about an hour after the police announced his identity and circulated his mug shot on social media.

Officials said they don't think the publicity helped them find Williams, but police said they only really care about the result — and made another public announcement to media outlets that the "newly minted Public Enemy Number One" was in custody.

Williams is accused of shooting a male Morgan State University student in the left leg and a woman in the left arm as a Northeast Baltimore house party dwindled early Sunday, Baltimore police Lt. Col. Dan Lioli said. The male victim told police two men approached him from a street corner in the 4400 block of Marble Hall Road and shot him with a handgun.

Lioli said the shooting stemmed from a dispute earlier in the night. Williams was named the city's top public enemy because he fired into a group of six to eight people, showing little regard for innocent lives, Lioli said.

While the first two fugitives dubbed Public Enemy No. 1 had extensive arrest records, Williams does not have any prior arrests as an adult, according to Maryland court records. Kowalczyk said he had been charged with first- and second-degree assault as a juvenile; the outcome in those cases couldn't be determined because juvenile records aren't publicly available.

A call to Williams' last-known address was not answered, and an attorney wasn't listed on court records. He faces 12 charges in the recent shooting, including multiple counts of attempted first-degree murder. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 25.

Police said the decision to tag Williams with such a notorious label wasn't taken lightly. High-ranking police officials consider a suspect's history, associations, and the violence of their alleged crime, according to Kowalczyk. Deputy Commissioner John Skinner said police believe he may be tied to robberies around Morgan State University and a shopping center.

Darryl Martin Anderson, the first fugitive tagged "Public Enemy No. 1," was accused of multiple murders. Police said the second suspect, Capone Chase, killed a victim in a playground while he was on his knees.

The use of the term "public enemy" in American law enforcement traces back to the Chicago Crime Commission during the mob's heyday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In April 1930, as the commission was locked in battle with mobster Al Capone and other gangsters, the commission released a list of 28 men they labeled as "public enemies." Capone was placed at the top, in an effort to persuade newspapers to drum up more information on the mob and put pressure on Capone.

Over the years, the FBI and television shows such as "America's Most Wanted" have popularized the use of notorious labels and rankings.

The FBI's "10 Most Wanted Fugitives" began on March 14, 1950, when a reporter asked the agency about the "toughest guys" on the lam, according to the bureau. The resulting story created a big enough stir to prompt FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to start the program.

Bank robber John Dillinger, Osama bin Laden and recently convicted Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger have been notable members — though the agency said the purpose of the ranking is really to publicize lesser-known fugitives.

Of 500 people placed on the list, 470, or 94 percent, have been apprehended or located, the FBI said.

The U.S. Marshals Service has a similar "15 Most Wanted" list. It aims to "draw attention to the nation's most dangerous and high-profile fugitives who tend to be career criminals with histories of violence and who may pose a significant threat to public safety," U.S. Marshals Service Chief Inspector Jeff Tyler said.

The Internet has also greatly aided deputies in the pursuit of fugitives. The use of social media is yet another avenue that law enforcement uses to spread the word and raise the visibility of "most-wanted" fugitives.

In fiscal year 2012, marshals arrested two of the "15 most wanted" and a total of 123,006 fugitives. Since its "most-wanted" program started in 1983, the federal service reported that it has arrested 220 of the highly sought fugitives.

Baltimore police have long circulated "most-wanted" posters and mug shots within the nine police district stations. In 1995, a local cable channel aired the show "Baltimore's Most Wanted" with the help of local law enforcement and Metro Crime Stoppers, and it was credited with helping make several arrests.

Other departments have found success publicizing their most-wanted, as well. In Springfield, Ill., local police partnered with The State Journal-Register newspaper to create a recurring "Springfield Police Department's Most Wanted" list online. Of about 120 people listed, police said 115 people have been arrested.

"It's real effective," Springfield police Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher said.

Besides getting information out, Buscher said, the list makes residents feel more engaged with police. And it scares suspects.

"We've heard that even some of the criminals are checking online to see when new pictures are on there," he said.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/justingeorge

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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