Councilwoman wants accounting from city police

The Baltimore Sun

Saying that Baltimore is becoming "numb and complacent" to murder, City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton demanded an update last night on the Police Department's homicide clearance rate and a briefing on the homicide investigation into the death of former Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr.

"This is not an indictment of the Baltimore City Police Department and their efforts to protect and serve," Holton said as she introduced a resolution seeking information from the city police commissioner. "The Baltimore City Police Department cannot do this alone."

Holton read out names of others in her district who have been killed and said, "We have to get back to a sense of urgency."

The council has not in recent memory asked for an update on a specific homicide probe, and the move reflects frustration that the investigation into Harris' death has not moved more quickly.

Harris, a councilman from 1999 to 2007, was fatally shot a month ago outside the New Haven Lounge in Northeast Baltimore's Northwood Plaza. Police have said they are looking for three men who they believe committed at least two other crimes in that area, but they've received scant help from the community.

Blurred video footage of the homicide suspects was leaked to the news media, and police released an image of a skull mask recovered from the scene. But those tidbits of information have not prevented rumors from spreading in the community, with some radio personalities suggesting that the councilman was targeted.

Yesterday evening's hearing was attended by Harris' wife, Annette, and his daughter, Nicole Harris Crest.

"My husband was serious about Baltimore; it is very important that we take each life seriously," Annette Harris told reporters, saying she would "continue to be his voice" but not comment on whether police are doing a good job with the investigation.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has said he will comply with the council's wishes and will brief members at a formal hearing. During an informal lunch yesterday, however, he said he will resist pressuring homicide detectives into acting precipitously.

"I'd be disingenuous if I weren't concerned that we don't push on the process in ways that are detrimental," he said.

Holton called the Harris killing a "tipping point" that drew attention to a troubling trend. The Baltimore Sun reported this week that the city's homicide clearance rate is at 45 percent, the second-lowest in 28 years. Department commanders and crime experts blame the drop in arrests on the city's "stop snitching" culture.

Several council members expressed support yesterday for police and discussed ways they could bolster the detectives' efforts. Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo suggested increasing the reward for crime tips from $2,000 to $20,000.

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