In the wake of rising community frustration over violent crime, Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods called a news conference yesterday to announce a new investigative task force and to reassure the city his department is active and responsive in attacking the problem.
Then, the commissioner declined to say how many police officers would be assigned to the new violent crime task force. He declined to specifically describe their new mission, or to say from what current assignments they would be taken. When asked who would command the new unit, he referred the question to the deputy commissioner for operations.
But Deputy Melvin C. McQuay only added to the mystery by declining to tell a reporter who would command the new unit: "At this point, I'm not going to say."
It was a news conference largely devoid of specifics: Department sources said later that the task force is still in the planning stages and the news conference "may have been a little premature."
High-ranking department sources added that Mr. Woods called the news conference at the insistence of City Hall, which is concerned about community criticism of the Schmoke administration's response to violent crime, which has risen by more than 30 percent since 1987.
The news conference follows last week's NAACP anti-crime meeting in East Baltimore, when Mr. Woods was heckled and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke criticized by NAACP leaders for his response to the slaying of 3-year-old Andre Dorsey, who was killed on Biddle Street by a stray bullet.
"Of course we are concerned at the number of citizens caught up in cross-fires," Mr. Woods said, adding that the new task force would be targeted at those neighborhoods deluged by such violence.
Agent Doug Price, a police spokesman, said the idea for the new task force stems from a $3 million state grant for a violent crime unit authorized by the legislature, but unfunded. At least 25 percent of the money was lost in the last round of budget cuts and the remaining funds also could be in jeopardy.
Although Mr. Woods did not mention the grant, Mr. Price said later that the commissioner called the conference to say that regardless of whether that program is funded, he intends to assign additional officers to high-crime areas in the eastern and western districts.
The commissioner said the additional manpower would not be culled from the patrol division, but from administrative areas.
Mr. Price said later, however, that patrol districts are being scoured for manpower that could be reassigned.
The spokesman also later acknowledged that Lt. Col. Joseph R. Bolesta will be in charge of the task force operation and planning. Initially, the task force might involve six officers: "We know that six officers isn't going to solve the problem, but it's a start and it can have an impact in some of these areas."
If the task force does receive funding, department sources said, it might include up to three sergeants and 21 officers, some of whom would be involved in gathering intelligence and maintaining a data base on violent drug offenders. The remainder would work the street as the unit's enforcement arm.
The idea for a unit targeting violent offenders isn't new. Such a proposal was offered two years ago by homicide detectives and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents who worked the federal probe of Linwood "Rudy" Williams, a major Westside trafficker suspected of at least four unsolved drug slayings.
Williams was sentenced to life in prison after a yearlong investigation.