THE NEED FOR more police officers on the streets of Baltimore was apparent even before there was talk of following New York's lead into a "zero tolerance" crime policy.
Measures taken by Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier to put civilians into desk jobs so additional officers could be out on patrol worked. But there is still little time for the interaction between citizens and officers on the beat that is necessary to spark the cooperation that reduces criminal activity.
Now Chief Frazier wants to add to continued community policing efforts a more intense strategy that targets drug "hot spots," increases surveillance to get guns off the street and requires either arrests or citations for every crime, even misdemeanors.
City Council members who believe these attitudinal changes would be effective even without more officers are right. But clearly more officers on the streets would put added pressure on criminals -- and allow the city's police force to do a better job.
Chief Frazier wants up to 300 more officers. The problem is how to pay for them. That would cost the city another $10 million a year. But the expenses don't stop there. The criminal justice system is clogged with a backlog of cases now. More aggressive policing would further gum up the courts and lead to more of the distasteful plea bargaining that too often makes jail a revolving .. door for felons. Complementary steps must be taken to put more judges and prosecutors to work.
That is already beginning to happen. Using a federal grant, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is creating a 14-member unit to investigate and prosecute gun crimes. If the legislature gives the city a new tax on bail bond fees, that new revenue will go mostly to the state's attorney's office.
In addition, the administrative judges of the circuit and district courts are considering a city night court and placing another judge at the central booking facility.
The city's financial commitment to whatever additional measures are ultimately taken to arrest, prosecute and jail criminals in Baltimore must be strong and long-lasting.
But before the mayor and council start talking about new taxes (other than the bail bonds levy) to hire more police officers and fight crime, they must show the public why the city can't cut spending elsewhere for that purpose. One way or another, though, a new crusade to sharply stem this city's crime wave should be the top priority for Baltimore's elected leaders.
Pub Date: 2/22/97