Republican mayoral candidate David F. Tufaro plans to outline his proposal today for reducing Baltimore's stubborn crime rate, calling for swift punishment for people caught with guns and giving community groups a say in which nuisance crimes should be targeted by police.
His 19-page document addresses dozens of city ills and possible solutions -- from reducing the number of desk-bound officers and moving them to the street, to using a civilian review board to deal with police misconduct.
Early in his campaign, Tufaro, a Roland Park developer, acknowledged knowing little about police aside from what he had learned in casual conversations with patrol officers. He seeks to change that with the latest of his position papers, this one called "Giving Meaning to Public Safety: Removing fear from our streets."
The candidate, making his first bid for public office, agrees with Democratic challenger Martin O'Malley that reducing crime is key to revitalizing the city, which was the fourth-deadliest in the country per capita last year.
"The reality and the perception that Baltimore is a high crime city discourages new residents and businesses from locating here," Tufaro wrote.
O'Malley has made reducing crime his central campaign theme, and has called for a "zero tolerance" policing strategy to target nuisance-type crimes, arguing that such enforcement can help stop larger problems from developing.
Some ministers who work in the poorer areas of Baltimore have expressed concern that such tactics will lead to abuse. O'Malley has stressed he will not tolerate brutality and has promised to aggressively "police the police."
Appearing on the taped broadcast of a television show that aired during the weekend, the two candidates sparred over public safety -- with O'Malley calling it unfortunate that people equate "zero tolerance" with police brutality, and Tufaro accusing O'Malley of capitalizing on a politically charged buzzword to simplify the complex problem of lowering crime.
Both candidates' public safety platforms offer similar themes -- addressing juvenile crime, targeting nuisance-type infractions, shutting down drug markets and reforming the courts -- but they differ on how to achieve results.
Tufaro promotes attacking quality of life issues -- such as prostitution, loitering and aggressive panhandling -- but said he wants to let residents and community leaders decide which crimes they want enforced to help avoid conflicts between police and citizens.
"It's a recognition that laws grow out of the standards in the community," he said yesterday. He said police might choose not to strictly enforce laws against drinking in public in certain areas.
"It might mean you would give less attention to that and enforce a more pressing need," he said. "Let's focus on prostitution in the community or something else. We already ignore enforcement of so many crimes in the city."
O'Malley's spokesman, Rick Binetti, said allowing communities to dictate what part of the criminal code they want enforced "seems to me very confusing. Why can one community do something one way and another community can't?"
On other issues, Binetti said he sees "no serious differences" between O'Malley's and Tufaro's platforms. He said "Martin's been pushing for three years" for court reform, stiffer penalties for people caught with guns and using criminal citations instead of arrest.
Tufaro said that "zero tolerance" is not the only way to reduce crime. He called for Baltimore to institute a program similar to Project Exile in Richmond, Va., under which many people possessing guns are prosecuted federally and those convicted get the five-year minimum prison term.
Baltimore has such a program now, called Project Disarm, but Tufaro said squabbles between local and federal prosecutors and city police are hampering abilities to bring gun-toting criminals to justice.
"We are on a common mission to focus on violent criminals," he said, adding that in Richmond, "egos were put aside. Apparently we haven't been able to get to that level of agreement."
Tufaro also called for strict scrutiny of police officers, as has O'Malley.
Legislators this year passed a law setting up a civilian review board in Baltimore, ending a three-year unsuccessful fight. But members lack subpoena power.
The Republican candidate backed such a board -- which came into existence after a state senator represented by lawyer O'Malley was arrested -- but said, "It has to have a sense of legitimacy, otherwise it's not going to be effective."
Other ideas proposed by Tufaro include fining people $250 for loitering in drug areas, used in Jersey City, N.J., and seizing their cars -- a tactic used in Chicago.
He said such an initiative would solve two problems. Most people would pay the fine, freeing court and prison resources. It would also address the growing issue of people visiting the city to buy drugs -- who he said should be dealt with more harshly by police than residents who are addicts.
Tufaro said the city needs drug treatment on demand, but stressed it won't work unless rigid controls are in place to monitor its effectiveness and to ensure defendants show up for their screening.
He also supports expanding the Police Athletic League, started by former Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.
But he did not say whether he would continue to staff the 29 centers with full-time, on-duty police officers, which PAL board members view as essential. O'Malley has said he supports PAL but might not use as many full-time officers.