Baltimore's leading business group promised yesterday to push hard for expanded government-funded drug treatment and juvenile crime prevention programs, and to urge its members to step up their efforts to make workplaces drug free.
The Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) also pledged its "full and complete support" to building a juvenile justice center in Baltimore and to creating a court to deal swiftly with minor crimes.
"Let me assure you that the GBC is not idly talking about this subject matter," said William L. Jews, chairman of the organization, which represents more than 700 of the largest businesses in the Baltimore metropolitan area. "We want to be vigilant in making sure . . . that we see some long-term improvements."
GBC President Donald P. Hutchinson said the influential group would lobby to turn the focus of state and local governments from the "get-tough" policies of more jails and longer sentencing to what he described as the more cost-effective approach of treating addicts who commit crimes and intervening early to keep youths from becoming delinquents.
"It is our job to go to the governor, the state legislature, the mayor, the City Council, to the metropolitan county executives and tell them that each of them have a vested interest in changing the way that they address the issues of juvenile crime and drug abuse," Mr. Hutchinson said.
The GBC officials spoke at a news conference at the organization's downtown headquarters to release a report, "Smart on Crime." The report, prepared by 16 top business executives over a six-month period, concluded that simply arresting and jailing criminals will not solve escalating crime, which it says imperils the region's quality of life and economic vitality.
They were joined at the news conference by Maryland Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Bishop L. Robinson and Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who backed the report's approach.
"We have immense criminality associated with the drug problem," said Mr. Frazier. "It is time to look for prevention and treatment as alternatives to incarceration."
Much of what the GBC is calling for has been proposed before by others, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has long advocated that drug addiction be treated as a medical rather than a criminal problem.
But the involvement of the 40-year-old organization in the issue represents not only a potentially powerful new impetus for change but also signals the growing concern of business with crime. Police say about 85 percent of crimes are drug-related.
"It is a top concern for business leaders who are affected by crime every time an employee becomes a victim, when crime causes businesses to move and when the fear of crime keeps customers, residents and visitors from enjoying all of the benefits that the area has to offer," said Mr. Jews, the president and CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland.
Noting that an estimated 70 percent of drug users are employed, Mr. Hutchinson said businesses should play a greater role in reducing addiction by imposing drug testing and implementing treatment programs for workers.
"We're willing to say that we haven't done our fair share yet, and we're willing to say that we're prepared to take on that responsibility," he said.
The former Baltimore County executive also said a state-funded juvenile justice center, designed to speed and integrate court and other services for dealing with delinquent youths, "needs to be built immediately."
Several locations have been suggested for the facility, but they have been opposed by either state officials or neighborhood residents, Mr. Schmoke said at his weekly news briefing Thursday.