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Corrections officers need protection from the state's...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Corrections officers need protection from the state's attorney

Correctional officers are professionals who put their lives on the line each day. They work in facilities where inmates outnumber officers and their daily working conditions are, at best, trying, at worst, life-threatening.

On a daily basis a correctional officer walks among inmates who may at any moment attack the officer with a homemade weapon, throw a "correctional cocktail" (a mixture of various bodily fluids and other disgusting substances) or become involved in a fight with an inmate in which bodily fluids can be exchanged.

The Maryland General Assembly recognized that these officers are deserving of something better when it passed legislation recognizing that throwing a "correctional cocktail" at an officer is a criminal act.

But not in Anne Arundel County, where State's Attorney Frank Weathersbee has declared anarchy in the prisons by refusing to take new felony cases from the Jessup prison ("Costs of jail trials in dispute," Aug. 18).

Anne Arundel County may need additional funds to handle its caseload and the state should recognize that through the normal budget process.

But Mr. Weathersbee's decision sets a bad precedent.

Correctional officers put up with enough abuse inside the prison walls; don't further abuse their humanity by ransoming their rights for money.

Hillary Galloway Davis

Towson

The writer is counsel to Maryland Classified Employees Association Inc.

Unlike guns, cars have a peaceful purpose

I read with amusement the recent letter comparing cars and handguns ("Licensing, registering cars doesn't prevent their misuse," Aug. 24). While the analogy may sound clever, it ignores the basic issue to make a rather simplistic point.

When comparing cars and handguns one must remember that one is designed for transportation, while the other is designed to murder people.

William Smith

Baltimore

Rural areas aren't equipped to host mega-churches

The Sun's recent articles about homeowners in rural areas all over the state resisting the construction of mega-churches in their communities have missed an important factor in this struggle ("Residents battle plan for church," Aug. 28).

Such churches buy rural land because it is less expensive than suburban or urban land, which is serviced by public water and sewer lines.

Rural land is less expensive because it does not enjoy such public services and is, therefore, not suitable for intense use.

Large religious congregations would likely encounter little opposition if they bought land in suburban or urban areas that are suitable for intense use, instead of hiring lawyers to force huge square pegs into small round holes.

Harold H. Burns Jr.

Baltimore

City can't afford to be so generous to its workers

It seems that Baltimore City municipal workers have a really good deal ("Baltimore tries to stem tide of worker abuses," Aug. 28).

In the real world, most companies have a "use it or lose it" policy on sick leave and vacation time. Why should the city pay for unused time from 10, 20 or 30 years ago?

With taxpayers fleeing the city by the hundreds every month, we cannot afford to continue to be so generous.

Mayor Martin O'Malley should make it clear to those responsible for negotiating contracts that it is a new era in Baltimore.

C.D.Wilmer

Baltimore

Why the city's murder rate is so high

The Sun's editorial on the Baltimore Police Department's Eastern District redeployment has taught me one of two things: either I have to do a better job of communicating what we are doing or The Sun's editorial writers have to do a better job of reading what is contained in the paper's own news pages ("Norris raises stakes with east-side strike," Aug. 23) .

Let me set the record straight.

We are moving more than 100 officers into the Eastern District to spearhead a highly synchronized effort against the city's worst murder problem. This effort is designed in accordance with the way we now fight crime -- deploying police resources and tactics to target problems as they arise.

In the Eastern District, we are directing our efforts at the heart of an entrenched narcotics industry that for many years has driven the second-worst big city murder rate in the nation and continues to do so today.

There have been more than 300 murders in Baltimore each year for the last decade. The last time there were fewer than 200 murders here was 1978. Why does this town have a chronic murder rate that is almost nine times the national average?

The answer is that the drug trade here was allowed to become what the federal government calls the worst in the nation.

Three separate but related factors, acting with insidious precision, have created this lethal problem.

First, political leaders who said drugs are a medical problem, not a criminal problem, made the criminal justice system believe it could look the other way.

Second, the police department itself was managed to be more concerned with the way it was perceived than with the reality of crime on the streets.

Third, the general public, including the media, was not sufficiently outraged at the high murder and addiction rates because the majority of victims were poor, black people -- many of them just children.

The lack of political will, police focus and public outrage are why five officers were charged with executing the city's 54,000 open warrants, while 88 officers staffed Police Athletic League offices.

These factors are also why one of the finest homicide units in the country was dismantled under the guise of fairness. They are why vast areas of this city have become drug wastelands, bereft of every sign of community and economic life.

They are also why editorial writers in this city feel smug enough to label any serious effort to fight crime "an act of desperation" that could wind up being the department's Vietnam.

The Sun recalled that our own analysis, conducted earlier this year, showed the Baltimore Police Department to be utterly lacking in intelligence-gathering activities and technology. But the same editorial showed no sign of understanding that the current Eastern District operation is intended to remedy that deficiency.

Let me explain how this is being done.

By arresting individuals engaged in low-level narcotics transactions, we are able to find out about higher-level drug traffickers. We are also able to solve open burglary, robbery and even murder cases.

By using wiretaps, we build evidence and information on drug dealing and criminal organizations.

By clearing warrants against violent offenders operating in the Eastern District, we take repeat offenders (professional criminals) off the streets.

Rebuilding the entire infrastructure of the Baltimore Police Department will take time. But one thing is certain: The Sun's Vietnam analogy is accurate in one major respect. This department is filled with young men and women who risk their lives every day for people they barely know so that this can be a safer city for citizens and for our children.

As we begin to succeed, we will need the help of the entire criminal justice system and the rest of society. Safe streets are a prerequisite for, but not the totality of, a healthy, thriving city.

Edward T. Norris

Baltimore

The writer is commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department.

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