As about 150 protesters shouted outside a mayoral debate at the Enoch Pratt Free Library last night, Democratic nominee Martin O'Malley was forced to defend the zero tolerance police strategy that has troubled the city in the wake of a recent police shooting.
At a mayoral debate inside the central library, a visibly frustrated O'Malley criticized political opponents -- including Republican challenger David F. Tufaro -- for using the shooting death of Larry Hubbard to challenge his plans to reduce crime if he is elected.
Prompted by a question from a debate audience of about 150, O'Malley summed up zero tolerance in 10 words: "Police officers getting out of their cars to address crime."
In a pointed exchange with Tufaro, O'Malley continued to rebuff his opponent's charges that implementing the policing strategy credited with reducing violent crime in some other U.S. cities will result in more police brutality.
Over the past decade, Baltimore has had 300 homicides a year, O'Malley noted. City residents want the murder to stop, he said, and his ideas on crime fighting will do that.
"I will wade through your crap and anybody else's to save their lives," O'Malley said to Tufaro.
The two men face a Nov. 2 general election to determine who will become Baltimore's 47th mayor.
The debate was the climax of a tense night in which a crowd of mostly black city residents stood on the library sidewalk and six white city police officers occupied the pavement across Cathedral Street.
Hubbard, who was black, was shot in the back of the head by white police Officer Barry W. Hamilton during an arrest attempt Oct. 7 in the 2000 block of Barclay St.
Inside the library auditorium, audience members lined up to ask O'Malley and Tufaro about their positions on issues ranging from cutting city taxes to tax breaks for economic development.
Hubbard's death -- the fourth fatal shooting by city police this year -- turned the focus of the debate to the zero tolerance strategy.
Over the past week, Tufaro has criticized the zero tolerance strategy implemented in New York City, saying that he endorses the community policing strategy instead.
As he has on the campaign trail, Tufaro told the debate audience that he supports allowing neighborhood groups to determine which crimes should be the focus of enforcement in their communities.
He said more cooperation among state, city and federal agencies will reduce crime by concentrating on repeat offenders.
Addressing all crime
The foundation of the zero tolerance policy is for police officers to address all crime, including nuisance violations such as public drinking, to intercept violent criminals -- particularly those wanted on outstanding police warrants -- before they commit more serious crimes.
"It's not about racial profiling," O'Malley said.
"It's about solving crime and preventing crime."
Detractors of the strategy contend that the increased exchanges between police and suspects have sharply increased the number of police brutality incidents.
The New York City Police Department is under fire in connection with several recent incidents, one involving the shooting death of an unarmed man and the brutalization of another suspect with a nightstick.
Tufaro called the Hubbard shooting "unnecessary" and pointed to the shouting outside the library as a result of the fear some city residents have of intensifying the crime fight.
"That is exactly the issue we're talking about outside," Tufaro said. "We had a situation begin with a stolen car and end with a person dying."
O'Malley, a former prosecutor and defense attorney, said Tufaro has a "limited knowledge" of the issue.
If elected, O'Malley said, he will make police investigations more open to the public to expose any police corruption.
Protesters chanting "O'Malley, what's the tally?" stood outside the library prior to the debate. O'Malley waded into the crowd and borrowed the bullhorn of a protester, attempting to calm fears.
O'Malley cautioned angry residents to wait until the Police Department has completed its investigation of the Hubbard case before making judgment.
But he assured the crowd that the death was not a result of a policing strategy.
"It will be truly and fully investigated in the beginning of the next mayor's term," O'Malley said.
Also during the debate, Tufaro criticized O'Malley for supporting tax breaks for new downtown developments, saying he was "mortgaging the future of Baltimore City."
$7 million in new revenue
O'Malley said the projects will bring in close to $7 million in new city revenue and noted that Tufaro, a Roland Park developer, once sought a similar tax break for a downtown apartment complex but gained a tax deferral instead.
"We're not taking money out of the school system, we are not taking money out of our Police Department, we are not taking money out of city coffers," O'Malley said.
Tufaro also blamed the Northeast Baltimore city councilman for failing to help reduce the city property tax rate enough.
O'Malley has pushed for property tax cuts of 12 cents for every $100 of assessed value since joining the the council in 1991.
"He has been nickel-and-diming us," Tufaro said.
Tufaro contends that the city tax rate can be cut further by hiring private companies to handle city services.
Indianapolis and Philadelphia have implemented the strategy to improve their fiscal conditions.
Cooperation, not competition
O'Malley opposes that strategy, stating that he intends to work with city labor unions to cut city spending.
"I do not believe privatization is the answer," O'Malley said. "I want cooperation, not competition."
The debate was carried on the Internet on The Sun's Web site, www.sunspot.net, and will be replayed today between noon and 2 p.m. on the Marc Steiner Show on radio station WJHU-FM, 88.1.