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Police can only do so much to reduce Baltimore's homicide rate [Letter]

I just read that Baltimore's homicide count is once again on the rise and that yet another expensive consultant's report is due, ostensibly to recommend solution(s) to this problem ("Council president wants answers on Baltimore police plan," Nov. 18).

First of all, and most-importantly, the police should not be blamed for this. Second, there is no need for expensive studies. Law enforcement is not a wheel that can be re-invented. Just about all of the effective means of combating crime have already been tested and used; there literally is nothing new under the law enforcement sun. These traditional and well-proven techniques certainly may be enhanced by bringing new technologies to bear; the "old" methods continually improve with the advancement of technology.

This isn't rocket science. Every police administrator who knows his profession also knows that the equation for the completion of a successful crime is very simple. There are essentially two components to a successful crime: opportunity and criminal inclination. Put those two together, and you will have a crime. At best, the very best, police have but a 50 percent chance of preventing these homicides (or any other crime for that matter), because they can only impact one of those components, that being opportunity.

A term that you will hear from top police executives is "omnipresence," which means being everywhere, all of the time. Of course that is impossible, because there are limits on the number of officers on the street. Police executives have learned certain techniques that create a perception in the public that the police in fact are everywhere, all of the time; this is but one "tool" for them.

So, it is obvious that a police officer on the scene of a potential crime will deny the would be perpetrator of his/her opportunity. That perpetrator will relent in that case but may simply decide to complete the crime when the police are not around. As long as there remains a criminal intent, and a confluence of that criminal intent and opportunity exists, there will be crime.

So the police certainly have an impact on opportunity, but what of criminal inclination? That is a problem for social engineers, and it is a complex problem. Poverty contributes to criminal intent; broken families contribute; drug use contributes; alcoholism contributes; anti-social behavior contributes; lack of education contributes; hunger contributes; cultural differences contribute; mental issues contribute; and there are others. Police have very little, if any, opportunity to seriously impact upon these societal conditions that precipitate criminal behavior.

Expensive studies are not the answer. Assisting the police in becoming maximally effective at what they do, coupled with a real effort to ameliorate these societal conditions, that is the answer; and I give it to you absolutely free of charge!

Robert L. DiStefano, Abingdon

The writer is a retired major with the Baltimore City Police Department.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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