Although it is very important to make good court cases, get good convictions and get long sentences for "bad guys with guns," it does not solve the larger issue: kids growing up to be bad guys with guns. There aren't enough prisons to incarcerate our way out of this predicament.
We must take a serious look at prevention. Yes, prevention. How can we better keep kids from becoming criminals? How can we instill hope into our youth? How can we create healthy communities?
The answers aren't unknown - they are just hard to implement.
* Healthy residents. The root causes of teen disorder start in the womb. Prenatal care, parenting skills, nutrition, health care, early childhood education: All can avoid many problems later in life. Continued family support and quality educational experiences throughout childhood greatly increase the chances for a successful life. After-school programs, athletics and positive adult role models continue the chances for success through adolescence.
Drug treatment must be better provided to addicts. Drug addiction must be treated as a health issue as well as a criminal justice issue. Drug treatment, along with job counseling, and mental health counseling and treatment, can successfully help people become productive members of the community and can make them better parents, better adolescents, and better friends and neighbors.
Good jobs, training and job placement programs strengthen communities and make them more resilient to crime. People are encouraged to get ahead through meaningful work instead of criminal enterprises. The city must attract businesses and industry to provide jobs that will enable the middle class to remain in neighborhoods and not flee to the suburbs. Residents must attain adequate education and job-skills training to attract businesses and industry. A good education leads to a good job.
Education must provide life skills, a sense of community and a place of safety for its students. Students must be fed, clothed and ready to learn each morning. Parents and grandparents start the process and must be provided with training in parenting skills where needed to make sure the children go to school prepared to learn. Once in school, teachers must have the skills to teach and manage the classroom. Principals must have skills to provide leadership and discipline to make schools work well in an orderly and sane manner.
* A healthy police department. The Baltimore Police Department needs stable, competent leadership capable of working with residents, businesses, other governmental agencies and not-for-profit organizations to implement long-term solutions to complex problems. Leaders must be able to gain the trust of people in the community and must be able to restore morale and pride in front-line officers. Leaders need to create an organization standing out as one of the best in the nation and one in which a prospective police officer would be proud to serve.
The organization should police with the community, not police to it. Police patrols in communities with officers known by and in touch with residents get the best results. Police officers should receive credit for solving problems in creative ways in lieu of being solely judged on statistical outputs.
The police department cannot solve the crime problem alone. It must immediately repair the strained relationship with the State's Attorney's Office and must work more closely with the state police, federal agencies, and city and regional organizations to address crime.
Police should target violent offenders, illegal guns, gangs, internal corruption - and should mend relationships with residents through their direct involvement in after-school programs and positive community interactions. Officers need to know and be known by people living in communities. Ordinary people supply much of the information used to solve crimes. People in communities should not be alienated through improperly applied "zero tolerance" policies or from police officers who do not truly care about the community residents.
* Healthy relationships among organizations. As mentioned above, the strained relationship between the Baltimore police and the State's Attorney's Office must be repaired. The police need to improve the quality of their investigations, and the prosecutors need to pursue cases vigorously. Putting violent criminals behind bars must be a shared goal among residents, police and prosecutors.
Once behind bars, the jail and prisons must support ongoing intelligence and provide job skills and drug treatment programs that work. Inmates released back into communities must be supported by a better system of parole and probation. All must work together to create a system of criminal justice that works.
Joint criminal intelligence units, comprising regional police departments, federal enforcement agencies and prisons, should provide information to all organizations, and intelligence should be gathered from all organizations for analysis. State prisons house inmates who continue to run criminal enterprises from behind bars. Prisons are a vast and relatively untapped intelligence resource. Released inmates most likely to be recidivists should be more closely monitored. Those less likely to offend again should be assisted in attaining a meaningful job and education.
* Healthy region. Just as the hub is the center of the wheel, so is Baltimore the hub of Maryland. The health of Baltimore directly affects the rest of the state. Regional demand for illegal drugs fuels much of the violence occurring on the streets of Baltimore. Regional jurisdictions need to recognize their responsibility to reduce the demand for illegal drugs.
The Baltimore Police need to increase efforts to arrest those from other jurisdictions in the region when they come to the city to make their illegal purchases. Baltimore's neighbors have a stake in and benefit from the city's economic health, and they need to take responsibility for their share of the crime problem as well.
That's what's needed to begin to turn this problem around. But how do we get there?
* Involve ordinary people. People who live in the affected communities who are willing to support government programs designed to help must welcome responsibility for lasting, meaningful solutions. Top-down solutions from governments rarely work over the long term. Community strategy meetings with the mayor should solicit direct input from people in the city. The information gained is then incorporated into governmental plans.
Crimes are much more difficult to solve and prosecute without support of witnesses and concerned citizens. The spirit of cooperation and service must be a genuine goal of residents, police and other governmental agencies. Government needs to genuinely listen to the people.
* Get focused on a shared vision. What does success look like? Turning around the crime problem in Baltimore will take many years. It will take hard work. It will take tenacious leaders in all disciplines. It will take leaders able to express to others a vision of a healthy future, something attainable toward which all can work.
What is the vision for Baltimore and its surrounding jurisdictions? Is Baltimore to be purely a tourist Mecca? Shall it be a bedroom community for Washington? Should it be the new New York? Should it be a welcoming center for new immigrants? Should it be a blue-collar town? Should it be a white-collar city? Should it be filled with only the rich and the very poor? Do people understand what success looks like? How does one know when crime is down enough? At what point will people feel safe in Baltimore?
The answers to these and many other questions are critical to a shared vision for Baltimore. Reducing crime and breaking the cycle that creates new criminals will greatly enhance the chances of attaining the vision sooner. Define the vision and talk about it often.
* Stop pointing fingers and get to work. There is enough blame for all to share for the failures thus far. Blame and political finger-pointing do not reduce crime. Create a fresh start. Focus on the positive. Find out what is working in Baltimore and do more of it. Focus on creativity and innovation. Stop looking back and blaming. Look ahead for opportunities. Get rid of the bad guys with guns - and prevent new ones from taking their place.
Doug Ward is director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Division of Public Safety Leadership. His e-mail is email@example.com.