To curtail crime, new tack is proposed

The Baltimore Sun

Homicides in Annapolis continue at a record pace despite an influx of state and federal resources, and the city's interim police chief said strategic changes are in the works to stem the tide.

Interim Chief Michael A. Pristoop, who took charge of the department three weeks ago, reiterated in an interview last week that he wants to tackle the city's crime problems with "targeted enforcement." Pristoop declined to elaborate, but his remarks suggest patrols would be stepped up where the recent violence has been concentrated -- in the city's public housing and private, low-income communities.

"We're going to increase our visibility and presence in areas that we determine to be affected by crime disproportionately," he said. "We're not going to neglect commercial areas and other residential areas that are not necessarily as prone to crime problems as the housing areas, but we have to address what is occurring. I think it goes back to proactive and responsive police work. Both are required."

The fatal shooting of 31-year-old Michael Lee Thompson May 3 in the Obery Court public housing community was the sixth killing this year, putting the city on track to exceed last year's record of eight homicides in 2007 by 10.

In fact, the homicide rate in the capital city of 35,000 is nearly double that of Baltimore, which after years of elevated murder rates is experiencing a 30-year low. Surrounding Anne Arundel County, with a population of about 510,000, has just two killings this year -- and one of the victims was an Annapolis resident.

The former chairwoman of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, Trudy McFall, has been urging increased police patrols in the city's troubled neighborhoods and said she would applaud a shift toward targeted enforcement, deviating from the policing policy of outgoing Chief Joseph S. Johnson. McFall's group, Citizens for a Better Annapolis, has issued reports asserting that a strong law enforcement presence is needed in the city's subsidized housing areas, where crime disproportionately occurs.

"[The city's] former policing philosophy was not to police where crime was concentrated -- that every part of the city had an equal claim to equal policing," said McFall, a potential mayoral candidate in 2009. "What we've been asking for was, let's analyze the data and know where crime is occurring and focus energies there. If that's what [the new chief intends], I would say, 'Bravo.' It's about time."

Alderman David Cordle, who heads the public safety committee and works for the county state's attorney's office, also welcomed the apparent policing shift: "We've been doing the same thing over and over and over again for years, we've got to try different tactics and styles of policing to get better results."

Pristoop, a former Baltimore City police commander, said he has approved overtime to increase patrols in certain areas, as well as consolidated resources within the detective and patrol divisions so there is a combined team of police out "during the right hours and in the right areas."

In February, state officials announced that Annapolis would be the recipient of an unprecedented crime-prevention initiative with hopes that it could become a model for the state. The Capital City Safe Streets program aims to bring together the expertise of federal and state groups like the U.S. attorney's office and the Division of Parole and Probation, along with $500,000 to boost police patrols and add lighting and security cameras in public housing communities.

Enforcement sweeps through troubled neighborhoods have resulted in the arrest of dozens of suspected drug dealers and others.

But there have also been three homicides -- two shootings in public housing communities and a beating death of a homeless man on West Street -- since the program was announced. Two weeks ago, a 15-year-old boy turned himself in in connection with a shooting in Eastport that left a 20-year-old man critically wounded.

Overall, violent crime -- murder, rape, robbery, and assault -- was slightly up in the first three months of 2008 compared with the previous year, though there were no significant trends, according to statistics provided by the Police Department. Numbers for April were not available this week.

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