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More police isn't the answer for Baltimore

The recent announcement that Baltimore received $1.25 million from the federal government to hire 10 police officers was met with praise in some corners of our city.

After months of violent outbursts this summer that claimed too many lives and left many others wounded, the idea of federal dollars to help pay for additional police might seem to some like a welcomed gift.

I find it difficult, however, to share in that opinion.

Friday's news was another reminder of the widespread misbelief that spending scarce dollars hiring additional police officers is somehow wiser than strategic investments in programs with a proven track record of reducing recidivism rates and preventing juvenile delinquency. I believe that this money could be better used to hire additional recreation workers or after school employees who would engage our young people in positive activities that could help prepare them for college and the workforce.

Already, Baltimore ranks third in the nation among large cities in the number of sworn officers it employs per capita — more than Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, according to statistics compiled by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The city has nearly twice as many officers per capita as Miami, Denver and Houston.

These statistics should give us pause as we consider the benefit of spending more than $100,000 each for a mere 10 new police officers to patrol our streets. Is this a wise investment? Will this money help to drastically reduce violent crime and improve the quality of life for the average Baltimorean? Rather than commit additional resources to the police department, we should instead pursue strategies that are proven to help prevent crime.

One such example is Operation Safe Kids. Run by the Baltimore's Health Department in collaboration with several state agencies, the program offers a community-based approach to monitoring high-risk juvenile offenders and helping them avoid recidivism. Safe Kids assigns juveniles an advocate to help meet their specific needs. This kind of hands-on approach could certainly benefit from additional federal funding.

After school programs are also a great way to keep our children engaged in enriching activities that make it less likely they will commit petty crimes. Unfortunately, funding for these programs is woefully lacking. Ten additional police officers can't possibly have the same positive impact as investing $1.25 million in after-school programs.

Finally, breaking the cycle of recidivism goes hand-in-hand with reductions in crime. Despite a decade of progress, more than 40 percent of people released from prison will be re-arrested within three years, according to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Fortunately, there are a number of programs aimed at reducing recidivism. The Baltimore City Drug Treatment Court uses probation, drug testing and treatment to help rehabilitate offenders and provide them with the tools to avoid future offenses. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, participation in the drug court program resulted in a cost savings of nearly $3,000 per participant over a 10 year period.

These are investments worth making.

Our problem is not just a lack of police officers to arrest offenders but rather a lack of services tailored to preventing crime from happening in the first place. We need to invest in young people and support adults who have served their time as they rebuild their lives.

Bernard C. "Jack" Young, a Democrat, is president of the Baltimore City Council. His email is councilpresident@baltimorecity.gov. Twitter: PrezJackYoung.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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