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Police Commissioner: BPD is as focused as ever on violent crime

On Sunday, a Sun editorial unfairly criticized the Baltimore Police Department for losing its focus on targeting the city's most violent criminals. I can assure residents that since I was appointed commissioner some 180 days ago, the senior leadership team of the BPD has been implementing strategies to complement our already razor-sharp focus on violent crime.

There's no question our strategy includes a stronger presence of police in violence-prone areas to allow people to feel safer in their neighborhoods. However, what most people don't see or hear about is BPD's continued relentless efforts to reduce crime by targeting violent repeat offenders and gun offenders. Let me share our goals and what we have done so far this year.

We have identified five strategic pillars that will result in a safer Baltimore, and the first is our concentration on violent offenders, gang members and guns. As of March 15, our officers had taken more than 200 dangerous felons off the street, serving 21 percent more felony warrants over last year at that time. Our fight against gang members and gun offenders is in overdrive, with officers conducting more than 2,000 home-visits to gun offenders in the first 2-1/2 months of the year, which puts us on target to make more than 10,000 visits this year — more than double what we accomplished in 2012. Gun arrests are up by 34 percent so far this year (266 versus 199 at this point 2012). So, although much of this is not apparent to the average resident, we are working harder than ever focusing on that small percentage of society that wreaks havoc on our neighborhoods.

The second focus area is community engagement. Community outreach, anonymous tip lines, COP walks and town hall meetings are all meant to inform, engage and empower the community to assist police in curbing crime.

Simply put, we continue to target illegal guns and violent offenders, and we have added two factors — additional police presence for the comfort and safety of the community and community engagement, in an effort to build bridges and communication between police and the community.

Make no mistake, the senior command staff of this department knows what works here. Deputy Commissioner John Skinner, who leads our Crime Reduction Bureau, has been a cop here for almost 20 years. He is leading the charge on the operations front with the help of Col. Garnell Green in the Neighborhood Patrol Division and Col. Dean Palmere of the Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Division, both BPD veterans who are fully aware of how the focus on violent repeat offenders and guns is a proven success strategy.

The third and fourth pillars — creating an ability to produce more actionable and timely intelligence and encouraging better data-sharing with our state and federal partners — entail long-range investigations that erode the effect of organized gang crime in our neighborhoods. In addition, State's Attorney's Gregg Bernstein's office is working with us to clear cases at a rate that exceeds what we had achieved last year at this time.

It's important to note that we have had less gun violence (homicides and non-fatal shootings) in Baltimore than in eight of the past 10 years. However, the lethality of that violence has gone up — meaning as we step up our game, criminals feel the heat and are being more lethal in their destructive ways.

Sadly, we have seen a rise in domestic-related incidents this year. In response, we have served more than 450 domestic violence warrants in the first 75 days of the year, and we are working more closely with victims of domestic violence in an effort to get them help before they become what you read as a statistic.

We are also seeing more acts of violence involving stabbings and cuttings, which shows our gun enforcement actions are being felt on the streets.

Despite a national economic downturn, we are making progress. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is committed to hiring officers, and we have a state-of-the-art camera system in place to help with the crime fight. However, systemic challenges within the department compel us to look at efficiencies and tactics that will serve Baltimore well into the next decade.

The last of our five focus areas is that of ethics, integrity and accountability. A police agency is only effective if it has the support of the community it serves. It is our job to earn and maintain that trust.

Going forward, the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department will build upon our existing accomplishments and enhance our community-oriented and intelligence-led policing model.

Baltimore is an exciting and vibrant city with enormous potential. The Baltimore Police Department will continue to play a major role in achieving Mayor Rawlings-Blake's goal to grow the city by 10,000 families within the decade by improving the quality of service we provide and drive down all crime — from homicides and non-fatal shootings to burglaries and larceny from autos — for each incident represents a crime victim. Our community deserves it, and our progress as a city depends on it.

Anthony W. Batts is Baltimore police commissioner. He can be reached at bpdtv@baltimorepolice.org.

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