Police chief urges calm amid killings

The Baltimore Sun

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III sought yesterday to calm concerns about Baltimore's recent wave of violence, outlining new tactics and calling on other partners in the fight against crime to "step up."

Though six people have been arrested on murder charges in the past few days, homicide detectives' caseloads continue to grow, with 11 people killed in the first seven days of January - a surge that dates back to November, when 30 people were killed in 30 days. Bealefeld said police plan to beef up their presence in East Baltimore, sending teams of specialized units in to conduct more traffic stops and field interviews and to serve warrants.

"I'm confident that the overall strategy for this city is sound and is the right path for us to stay on," Bealefeld said. "[But] I can't ignore what's occurred through November and December coming into the start of the year."

At a news conference, officials talked about gun seizures and the arrests of suspects in several killings from this year and last. Warrants are out for three other suspects, including a man who allegedly shot his cousin outside a bar hours into the new year, and detectives have solid information in a few other cases, according to Maj. Terrence McLarney, who oversees the homicide division.

"We are working diligently, with everything the department has to give us, on this rash of murders, and we're cautiously optimistic on several of the cases," McLarney said.

Much of the violence has occurred on the east side, and police said they are redirecting resources there. Members of the warrant apprehension task force will be on the streets in the morning, and an afternoon overtime shift has been put into place.

The Eastern District will also receive a handful of additional squads from the Violent Crime Impact Division, a signature initiative of Bealefeld's administration designed to maintain a larger number of officers in historically high-crime areas rather than sending them around the city in response to crime.

The police union has said that a City Hall- mandated crackdown on spending contributed to the November crime spike, and some say that it has been a factor in the continued violence. Police have been given a green light to resume overtime spending but say that they are being more deliberate in how it used.

The city's most recent homicide victim was identified yesterday as Antron Batts, 35, of the 4200 block of Glen Arm Ave. Batts was one of three people shot Wednesday afternoon near Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The murder arrests are a fast start for the city's homicide division, which last year posted its lowest case closure rate since 1998 amid a national downturn in closed cases.

Citywide, police had seized 87 guns this year as of Wednesday, including more than 40 on New Year's Day. Bealefeld said police have rounded up guns, drugs and cash in recent days. He told an anecdote about a man whose car had been broken into who called police, only to have an illegal handgun fall out of his waistband as he decried the break-in.

At times appearing exasperated, Bealefeld asked for more help from state elected officials, who will consider a host of handgun-related measures from the city in the coming General Assembly session, and from state and federal prosecutors, community leaders and average citizens.

"We're doing everything we can ... to focus on bad guys with guns, but we really need all of our partners to step up and help support our efforts to reduce violence in Baltimore by focusing very stridently on these bad guys with guns," he said.

Bealefeld pointed to a judge's decision Tuesday to uphold the closing of a troubled North Avenue liquor store last summer as a sign of progress. Baltimore City Circuit Judge Lynn K. Stewart affirmed the padlocking Aug. 18 of Linden Bar and Liquor, which police said had become a hub of criminal activity.

The business owner noted that much of the evidence used against him came from his calls to 911 for help, and he said he assisted police in the investigation of a homicide that occurred in the store in July. But police said he failed to take security measures to curb the violence.

"The Police Department should not have to act as a de facto security guard for people engaged in bad business practices [who] aren't committed to public safety in this city," the police chief said.

Bealefeld said that at least two more businesses could be padlocked soon.

He asked that residents keep in mind police efforts while they weather the current storm.

"Judge us on our actions. Judge us on what we're doing," he said.

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