New York City will be the proving ground this week for two opposing city government delegations looking for solutions to Baltimore's high crime rate.
Four members of the City Council will head to New York City later today to study that city's "zero tolerance" crime policy, which calls for arresting anyone who commits the pettiest of public offenses. The council delegation wants to show that the policy will work in Baltimore -- despite protests from Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who insists that it won't.
To bolster his case, Frazier sent his own two-man delegation to New York City yesterday to try to prove that arresting people for small crimes such as jay-walking or minor shoplifting will clog crowded jails and bring burdened courts to a standstill.
These dueling delegations are fundamentally split over how to stem rising crime in Baltimore at a time when many other major cities, including New York, are posting lower crime rates. So far this year, the city has had 218 homicides. That rate is ahead of the pace in 1995, when Baltimore had 325 homicides.
The political ramifications of these trips could be felt for some time to come.
Some council members, under the leadership of President Lawrence A. Bell III, are once again publicly calling into question the policies of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who backs Frazier in opposing a policy of zero tolerance.
If the council delegation returns with what it feels are legitimate reasons to begin zero tolerance here, Bell and 3rd District Councilman Martin O'Malley are likely to launch a public campaign against Frazier's policy.
"We are hoping to look at all the reasons the commissioner has given us why it can't work," said O'Malley, who will be joined on the trip by council members John L. Cain, Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Stephanie Rawlings. State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and two Fraternal Order of Police members also are scheduled to participate in the three-day event.
Frazier says he has no intention of instituting a zero-tolerance policy because it would require many more police officers, jails, judges and courtroom space.
"This system is just not geared up to deal with zero tolerance," Frazier said. "You have to tailor your balance of prevention with policing to come up with a strategic approach that works."
Council members have been questioning Frazier's policy since January, when he began to de-emphasize arrests for possession of small quantities of drugs and instead focus on taking guns off the streets.
Bell and O'Malley theorized then that stopping minor criminal activity could prevent more dangerous crimes such as murder and drug use.
The council's idea to visit New York City came during Frazier's reconfirmation hearing in April, when he came under fire for not being tough enough on criminals. Frazier's delegation, Violent Crimes Task Force commander Lt. John Tewey and field operations chief Col. Ronald Daniel, was put together late last week.
Both groups are expected to meet with top New York City officials from the police and probation departments and circuit and district courts. They are also expected to go on patrol rides with police officers.
But Frazier said that his delegation will have the advantage of better access to important information. "The truth of the matter is there are a number of aspects that we feel are important that [the council] delegation doesn't have access to," Frazier said.
Pub Date: 8/20/96