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Sheila Dixon to unveil plan aimed at decreasing crime in Baltimore

During Sheila Dixon's years in office, the violent crime rate went down each year — for an 11% decline.

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon will release a 7-page plan Monday that she says will reduce violence in Baltimore — using many of the same strategies she employed during her mayoral term when violent crime dropped.

Dixon, the early front-runner in the city's Democratic primary election, wants to target gun offenders and increase police training. She says she also will invest more to address the city's joblessness and "public health crisis," which she says is at the core of the crime problem.

Her plans include using "available and underused data" to address crime trends, overhauling the police academy, and equipping every school with mentoring and tutoring services.

"Our responsibility is to have a safe and healthy city," Dixon said Sunday in her campaign office. "This is not an opportunity for a learning curve. That's not disparaging to the other candidates who are running. We've got a huge job ahead of us."

Dixon's plan comes as Baltimore is experiencing the worst per capita homicide rate in history. There were more than 920 shootings last year and 344 murders. The dramatic rise in gun violence occurred after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody — which sparked weeks of protests and a riot in April.

"This has been a year of profound hardship for our city," the plan states. "We know that what happened in April was an expression that things needed to change."

Dixon was forced from office in February 2010 after she was convicted of misdemeanor embezzlement for stealing gift cards meant for needy families. Her supporters argue she was an effective mayor and deserves a second chance to lead the city.

During Dixon's three years in office, homicides in Baltimore dropped from 282 to 238, and the violent crime rate went down each year — for an 11 percent decline. At the same time, arrests declined from a high during the so-called "zero tolerance" policies of her predecessor, former Gov. Martin O'Malley.

She said she will be evaluating the job performance of Police Commissioner Kevin Davis over the next year. Under Davis' contract, he will be paid $150,000 in severance if the next mayor fires him without cause in the next five years.

"Things are starting to get back on track," Dixon said. "He's beginning to put a plan in place."

She also proposes increasing funding and staff of the city's Civilian Review Board, which handles police complaints, and offering "continuous training and support" for police.

"Most of our officers are decent men and women doing a tough job," the plan states. "We cannot afford to have them demoralized, undercutting their effectiveness and engagement."

The plan doesn't offer specific dollar amounts for programs or specific goals for crime reduction.

Hamin Shabazz, chair of the criminal justice faculty at Stevenson University, said addressing the root causes of crime is the most important job of a mayor. "The more opportunity you have for the youth, that will help reduce crime," he said.

But Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who is now an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said he thought the plan was "not particularly substantive." He said other aspects of the criminal justice system need to step up in Baltimore. "Baltimore doesn't need longer sentences," he said. "It needs more convictions."

Dixon is among 13 Democrats seeking to become the next mayor. One of her top rivals, Councilman Nick J. Mosby, is scheduled to release a 15-point plan to improve Baltimore Tuesday. Other leading contenders include State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, City Councilman Carl Stokes, lawyer Elizabeth Embry and businessman David L. Warnock.

Dixon's proposal comes as the Police Department is expecting the results of a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation that is likely to mandate extensive and costly reforms.

Davis, the police chief, has developed two training programs to improve community relations and hired a high-ranking official to oversee planning.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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