High-crime areas are targets in police plan

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore's new anti-crime plan calls for police to reduce homicides by flooding historically violent areas with patrol officers, shining helicopter spotlights on known drug corners and targeting truant students and curfew violators.

The policing strategy of Acting Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm and Acting Deputy Commissioner Marcus Brown, obtained by The Sun, offers a pointed goal: "Homicides and shootings can be reduced and/or prevented. All elements of this department will work toward achieving this goal."

Under the plan now being put into place, the Eastern and Western police districts are being bolstered by redeploying officers and are to be commanded by the department's most motivated supervisors. The Eastern District is growing to 300 officers from 170. The Western District is swelling to 212 from 156, according to the plan. The Northwestern District also will be increasing to 166 officers from 146.

Those districts - which recorded the highest homicide totals of the city's nine districts last year - will be targeted by officers serving warrants, officers with police dogs and traffic officers. School police in those areas will be asked to make daytime sweeps for truant students. Officers will swarm over specific violence-prone areas within the districts, mostly at night.

The Eastern, Northwestern and Western districts are the only ones mentioned in the nine-page plan.

Brown described his goal for residents in those areas: "If they are good citizens, I want them to be able to sit out on their porches. ... If they're in the criminal element, I want them to know they can't carry a gun. I want them to know police are looking for any activity related to the drug trade, and they're going to be stopped."

The focus on reducing homicides comes as the department has claimed success in reducing just about every other type of crime - but has been dogged by a stubborn homicide rate.

The annual homicide count declined for three consecutive years after the election of Mayor Martin O'Malley in 1999, but it has increased for the past two years. The city recorded 278 homicides last year, the most since 1999. And 2005 is off to a deadly start with 27 homicides in the first 28 days.

Some residents in the targeted areas said they have started to notice the effects of the plan, which police have started to implement over the past week.

"I have been seeing more police cars. I've been hearing more police sirens at night," said Glenn Ross, the former president of the McElderry Park Community Association in East Baltimore. "Now keep the officers in the same area so the community and the officers can create some kind of dialogue."

Criminologists said the plan - Baltimore's third in five years - will only be effective if Hamm can attain cooperation from other law enforcement officials. His predecessor, fired Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark, frequently complained that the rest of the criminal justice system was failing.

"Redeploying officers, as this strategy seems to emphasize over and over again, is only one of several steps that can be taken," said Jeffrey Ian Ross, a University of Baltimore criminologist, "but minimal gains will be achieved if other local and state agencies ... are not acting in a coordinated fashion."

Police officials said they are developing strong relationships with other agency leaders, such as state parole and probation officials who may begin stationing their officers in police districts, Brown said.

The deputy commissioner also moved yesterday to fend off potential complaints from areas of the city not mentioned in the plan, as well as law-abiding residents who could be affected by an increased police presence in the targeted neighborhoods. He cautioned that police would need to treat residents with respect while focusing on these areas.

"Good people will be stopped," he said. "As long as you treat me well, you can stop me all you want."

At a community meeting this week, residents in Charles Village questioned police officials as to how they will be affected by the deployments of police elsewhere.

Brown said other neighborhoods would not lose police to the targeted districts. Instead, discretionary units that formerly deployed across the city will focus on the high-crime areas, he said. He mentioned traffic enforcement officers as an example.

"They're not going to change the number of citations they write a day, but they're going to change the locations where they write them," he said.

The department is also putting administrative and community affairs officers on the street, he said. It has also reduced to 160 from 260 the Organized Crime Division - a unit of largely plainclothes officers that focused on undercover drug buys during Clark's tenure.

In some ways the plan differs greatly from Clark's written directive. It took Clark 14 months to produce his 86-page document. Hamm's nine-page plan was produced in less than three months.

Clark's plan stressed enforcement of so-called quality-of-life crimes and disassembling drug organizations. It placed a strong emphasis on undercover street drug buys. There will be less emphasis on such activities under Hamm. Brown said the department flooded the court system with more cases than it could pursue.

Hamm said his plan is different because, in addition to targeting specific areas, each district is monitoring specific violent offenders.

Commissioner's crime plan

Deploy more officers to Western, Eastern and Northwestern Districts.

Transfer more officers from the day shift to evening hours.

Clear high-crime corners with police helicopter spotlights.

Review all supervisors to ensure the best are overseeing Eastern and Western Districts.

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