What's Being Done about Crime?


Wednesday's cold-blooded slaying of the night manager of Burke's Restaurant, near the Inner Harbor, is the latest senseless killing in a city that has seen too many murders in recent months. Together with a series of shotgun holdups at supermarkets, banks and convenience stores in the metropolitan area, these crimes have instilled a sense of fear in the population.

This violence is not exclusively a city problem. But unless it is curtailed, the city is certain to register the biggest losses if local and out-of-town visitors start avoiding Baltimore. Wednesday's holdup killing -- which could have happened anywhere -- took place in a busy restaurant near the city's premium tourist attractions. Last month, two people were killed in a burst of semiautomatic gunfire on a recent afternoon on North Avenue, a main east-west city connector.

These killings continue the bloodshed of last year, when the 1989 homicide total of 262 shot up to 305. "We can't have a repeat of this in 1991," Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke promised after a New Year's Eve meeting with top police brass. "We have to talk compassion, but we also have to talk punishment. Traditional punishments don't seem to be effective for some people in our society."

Criminals know that in Baltimore City, major crimes, including homicides, can be committed with relatively little risk of punishment. The police are overworked, the criminal justice system is collapsing under a heavy case load. As a result, a killer, even if he or she is caught, has a better than even chance of escaping conviction. Even if convicted, relatively few of these criminals actually spend time in jail. If this deplorable situation is allowed to continue, crime will one day overwhelm the metropolitan area. The slaying of innocent people could become commonplace.

Today's crime epidemic is fed by a culture of drugs, guns, greed and disrespect for life. No panacea exists. But all law-abiding citizens will welcome yesterday's announcement that the Drug Enforcement Administration has teamed up with state police and local departments in the city and Baltimore County to hunt down violent drug traffickers responsible for many recent killings. Let this be the beginning of regional cooperation in dealing with the distressingly high level of crime in the region.

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