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GBC takes on crime New strategy: Community courts would handle minor neighborhood cases quickly


THE GREATER Baltimore Committee has developed a strategy for fighting crime that includes several good ideas that city decision-makers should seriously consider. One worthy proposal would establish community courts to dispense swift justice for perpetrators of petty crimes who typically avoid any punishment.

The community courts would handle misdemeanor cases such as graffiti, window breaking and other vandalism, aggressive panhandling, loitering, etc. Rather than jail time, those convicted would probably be sentenced to perform community service in the neighborhoods where the crime occurred.

Knowing such cases would be handled quickly and the perpetrators actually punished would give police officers more incentive to pursue arrests in petty cases. And seeing the people who trash neighborhoods have to clean them up would help restore some of the public's lost faith in the criminal justice system.

New York City has developed a community court; most cases are adjudicated on the day of arrest. Robert F. Sweeney, chief judge of Maryland's district courts, says he's not sold on the idea, but is happy to see GBC involved in the fight against crime. Judge Sweeney said the city's district courts are already doing a good job of hearing cases swiftly. He also said any community court must have the atmosphere of a real court so defendants know their crime is being treated seriously.

The GBC report stresses the relationship between crime and drug abuse. Funding more drug treatment slots in Baltimore has been difficult. But budget writers must keep in mind the cost effectiveness of drug treatment. One California study indicates that for every $1 spent on drug treatment, a community saves $7 in costs associated with crimes that addicts commit to support their habits.

Too often reports that originate from outside City Hall are hailed upon their unveiling, but forgotten thereafter. Let that not be the case with the GBC report, "Smart on Crime." The business community as well as residential neighborhoods must be involved in any effective effort to reduce crime. The police cannot handle the job alone.

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