Don't just hire more police; pay more, too

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore should not only hire another 160 to 200 police officers; it should pay all police officers at least 20 percent more than they're making now. All due respect to police officers in Howard County and Baltimore County; we take nothing away from you. But your brothers and sisters in Baltimore should make considerably more than you do, not less, as they do now.

The reason is V-Factor.

That's V as in violence, as in Baltimore having the second-highest murder rate in the country, according to the FBI.

V-Factor is something I came up with while looking at two sets of numbers - total annual violent crimes (murder, aggravated assault, robbery and rape) per jurisdiction and total number of sworn police officers per jurisdiction. V-Factor provides a ratio: The number of violent crimes per cop per year.

V-Factor for Baltimore is about 20 percent higher than V-Factor in Baltimore County, and more than twice as high as it is in Howard County. Yet police officers in the two counties are paid more than police officers in the city. Makes no sense.

Candidates for mayor have offered all kinds of ideas for fighting crime in Baltimore, and one of them, City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell, wants to hire 300 more officers. Fine. But we have to pay them - and the ones already on duty - a lot more than they are making now, or the city will never increase its crime-fighting ranks.

More on this on my Sun blog, Random Rodricks.

Two years later ...

Yesterday marked two years since the "Dear Drug Dealers" letter appeared in this space - an exasperated appeal to those in the criminal life in Baltimore to stop the killings, stop the drug-dealing, get off the streets and find a job. The column, and many that followed, offered help for two groups - men and women with addictions who needed treatment and those with criminal records who needed help finding employment.

"I noticed that you are willing to assist someone to get off the streets and get a job," a reader named Derrick Rather wrote after seeing my Sun number (410-332-6166) and e-mail address ( in this space last Sunday. "I favor optimism, but most of these people do not read the newspaper."

Rather was not the only one to raise that point; many people did at first, including the professional ridiculers who work in local talk radio.

But here's the news: Nearly 5,000 men and women have called The Sun in the past two years to ask for help. They might not read this newspaper, and some might not read at all. But their mothers do, their sisters do, their probation agents do. And their mothers, sisters and probation agents urged them to call for help.

And guess what?

They did.

In response, we gathered information and passed it along - lists of the few local agencies that help ex-offenders re-enter society, companies known to hire adults with criminal records, current listings of "hot jobs" from the Mayor's Office of Employment Development and clinics that offer drug treatment.

We've mailed out hundreds of information packets - a bunch to prison inmates who wrote to say they wanted to start looking for jobs while behind the walls.

Those who called here were mostly men, a few as young as 18 and a few as old as 56, but the rest in between. Most had used or sold heroin, cocaine and/or marijuana. Many had committed other, mostly petty crimes in connection with drugs (check forgery, shoplifting, etc.) and many seemed to be low-level user-addicts - that is, guys who sell heroin or coke to maintain their own habits.

From time to time, we received calls from someone convicted of armed robbery or a handgun violation. But in the main, our contacts have been with men and women whose records are nonviolent and dominated by narcotics charges.

Some were still using, some were in residential treatment programs, some still selling. Many said they had stopped working the corners because they feared more incarceration; that was a recurring theme among most who called in 2005 and part of 2006, while Martin O'Malley was still mayor.

The one thing the vast majority of callers had in common was this: Their criminal records were obstacles to steady jobs. An ex-Marine who called here Friday was the latest to say that. After his discharge in 2000, he fell back into the street scene and started selling dope. Now, despite his honorable military service, his criminal record keeps him from getting a steady job.

There are thousands of Marylanders who are unemployed or underemployed because of their criminal pasts. Post-9/11 security measures have added to the obstacles between prison and the workplace.

I've said this before: We have a fierce human problem in our midst - an estimated 40,000 drug addicts, a city unemployment rate nearly twice the state average, up to 9,000 men and women returning to Baltimore from prison every year. Unless Maryland's employers recognize this long-standing crisis and make an effort to fix it, then this region will never hit full economic stride. We will always have too many men and women draining government and charitable resources instead of contributing to the community's overall health by working, owning homes and setting a good example for their kids.

News intern Rafi Tamargo contributed to this column.

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