Mayor, Batts attend west-side town hall meeting

For Raymond Kelly, fixing the issue of crime in his Sandtown Winchester neighborhood seems simple enough — make sure police and community leaders are visible.

"Drug dealers on the corner don't want to be seen," the community organizer said. "We want to be seen."

Kelly and his wife, Melissa, have run "No Boundaries," a seven-neighborhood community improvement coalition, for about six years. On Wednesday night, Kelly petitioned Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts to join them at their monthly meeting and discuss how police could help their cause.

The Kellys were among the dozens of people who came to Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore to participate in a town hall meeting with Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Earlier in the day, Rawlings-Blake introduced LeVar Michael, a former project manager in her office who will lead the Ceasefire program, an initiative that encourages community policing to shut down drug markets and reducing shootings through face-to-face sessions with problem-causing groups. In these meetings, or "call-ins," police, prosecutors, clergy and residents confront those responsible for area violence.

The mayor took advantage of a weeks-long lull in violent crime to promote the drop in fatal and nonfatal shootings in the city in February. She credited the Police Department's expansion of "zone" policing, in which patrols focus on specific problem areas. Rawlings-Blake said she hoped Ceasefire would cause a further drop in violent crime when it is implemented in the coming months.

Michael, who is heading the initiative, which was unsuccessful in the city in the late 1990s, said, "This time, we're going to get it right."

"There were a lot of missing components last time," he said, adding that community-wide buy-in is crucial for the program's success, as is political and law-enforcement backing.

"This time, it's a 'perfect storm' opportunity", he said, with local, state and federal law-enforcement involved.

The groups have held several "productive" meetings this week and finished a problem analysis, a first step to implementing the Ceasefire program, Michael said.

At the public safety meeting Wednesday night, several members of the Tyrone West family excoriated the mayor and the Police Department, asking them repeatedly whether police officers involved in the controversial case had been taken off the force. West died in a struggle with police officers last year.

Batts responded that the department is continuing to investigate and takes a hard line on any who are causing the community to lose trust in the agency.

Batts was critical of his own department, pointing out that it moves more slowly than he'd like. He said he'd sent majors to other departments and their collective reaction was that Baltimore's was like a Ford Pinto, when it needs to be a Porsche.

"I didn't break it, but it's my job to fix it," Batts said. "I've been here a year; it didn't get broken in a year. ... We're moving in the right direction."

Batts shook hands with one of West family members and promised the Kellys he would attend their next meeting.

The Kellys said that would be a good first step.

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