By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun
8:28 PM EST, January 8, 2014
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called Wednesday for the public to be more engaged in helping police and elected officials fight Baltimore's violence.
"For me, 2014 is about making sure that everybody in their own way contributes to making Baltimore a safer city and the acknowledgment by the collective community that if you're not a part of the solution — if you are not actively part of the solution — than you are actively part of the problem," the mayor said.
Rawlings-Blake called for an "all-hands-on-deck effort."
Her comments followed a public grilling of Police Department officials at a City Council hearing Tuesday. Early in the new year, the homicide count is at eight, including a father and son killed the afternoon of Jan. 1.
"I am not happy at all with the way that we've started," Rawlings-Blake said. The mayor said she continues to stand behind her handpicked police commissioner, Anthony W. Batts.
Although homicides were up last year, police made gains in other areas, such as combating gun violence, the mayor said. About 400 people were shot in the city in 2013, compared with more than 650 in 2007.
"This is not simply a police issue," she said. "We have a strategy that we know continues to work, but it has to be a strategy that is supported by all of the community. … When you say no one cares about the homicide rate and then you don't follow that up with what you're doing to help, to promote safety, to work for a better Baltimore, you have to acknowledge that you're part of the problem, too."
A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said the mayor wants people to talk to police if they know details that could help solve crimes.
"When citizens see crimes or have specific knowledge about a crime that is hurting the community, then speak up, talk to detectives and help them catch the bad guys," Kevin Harris said. "Be vigilant in the community and report suspicious activity when you see it, and be active in your community groups and associations and take an active interest in the community in general."
With 235 killings in 2013, the city's homicide rate was the highest in four years.
During Tuesday's City Council hearing, Councilman James Kraft asked whether the police focus on gangs was a shift away from former Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld's emphasis on "bad guys with guns."
Police officials pointed toward indictments and arrests as evidence of a working strategy and told council members that the department is better deploying foot patrol officers.
Rawlings-Blake said Batts is steering the department in the right direction.
"The strategy and focus has been consistent and clear, and that is on violent offenders," she said. "The acknowledgment that we have gangs in Baltimore didn't shift that focus at all."
The mayor said she is optimistic about reducing crime.
"For Baltimore to be the city we all want it to be, all of us have to be doing something," she said.
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