The recent editorial in The Sun ("Stopping the killing," March 24) argues the police should be focusing on guns and violent offenders. Clearly, there is value in having the police take as many guns off the street as possible, and strategies that engage hard-core violent offenders make a difference.
That is why Commissioner Anthony Batts and his command staff have made guns, gangs and violent offenders the key elements of a strategy with five areas of focus aimed at reducing the unacceptable level of homicides in the city. And three of the other focus areas — community engagement, actionable and timely intelligence and enhanced information exchange with state and federal partners — place police in a better position to deal with violent offenders.
The police are not abandoning a strategy that appears to have had some success, they are making it more effective.
Unfortunately, any suggestion that the police alone are responsible for homicides in Baltimore is shortsighted and ignores what we know about the nature of violent crime. The police can and have made important contributions to reducing violence, but long term reductions in Baltimore and throughout America require much more than taking guns off the street and arresting gang members and violent offenders. We should be asking what causes young men to lead a life of crime and end up killing each other.
We know that violence is concentrated in our high-poverty urban areas. In those areas, we know that the victims and perpetrators of violence are largely young, unemployed African-American men with lengthy arrest records who have not been successful in the educational system. We know that the majority of gang and drug-related homicides take place in large cities. We know that a substantial portion of violence takes place in domestic situations among family members. We also know that guns are used in the majority of homicides.
Violence is a community problem that requires both short-term police strategies and long-term solutions that take into account what we know. The police are just one part of the equation. We must bring all of the involved community resources together — from houses of worship, schools and social services to employers, community leaders and policymakers — to make the kind of substantive and sustainable changes that will have real impacts on crime and the people who commit them.
Darrel W. Stephens
The writer is executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.