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Dan Rodricks: 'What do we do to get our city back?'

Townhomes greet the morning sun with police crime scene tape still attached at Fremont Avenue and Franklin Street, one day after a Baltimore Police homicide detective was fatally shot.
Townhomes greet the morning sun with police crime scene tape still attached at Fremont Avenue and Franklin Street, one day after a Baltimore Police homicide detective was fatally shot. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Few things wound the soul of a city like the death of a public servant, a police officer or firefighter, and especially a police officer doing what Detective Sean Suiter was doing the other day when he was killed — trying to solve a homicide in a city riddled with violence.

Baltimore has so many scars now, and so many inflicted in just the last three years: the shooting death of little McKenzie Elliott in Waverly in 2014, the rioting of April 2015, the opioid epidemic, the escalation of gun madness and the insane per-capita rate of killing, with 300-plus homicides per year. Now, the death of a detective, married with five children. God help us.

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A lifelong Baltimorean, who loves city life, has curtailed her morning strolls through a generally safe neighborhood. “I can't believe it's me writing these words,” she said in an email, “but I'm in duck-and-cover mode, awaiting something else hideous sure to happen today.”

There’s a heavy police presence in West Baltimore Friday morning as authorities continue to search for the gunman responsible for the death of Baltimore Detective Sean Suiter, shot on duty Wednesday night.

A letter arrived from Craig Maki, a high school teacher who years ago played youth soccer with Alex Wroblewski, the 41-year-old bartender who was shot to death in a robbery outside a convenience store in South Baltimore early Tuesday. “There is so much good in the city but it’s overshadowed by the sheer brutality, dysfunction and hopelessness on daily display,” Maki wrote. “A friend calls it Brutalmore, and I usually rebuke his moniker, but Alex’s cold-blooded killing seriously makes me question my faith.”

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Faith in the city and its leadership? Faith in your fellow man? Faith that this country will ever do anything about all the guns that make so many crimes and killings possible?

Another Baltimore native, Steve Mason, wrote from Georgia, where he works for the federal government: “My heart hurts for our city. What do we do to get our city back?”

Mason, who wants to move back to Baltimore one day, expresses what many people here feel privately — that since April 2015, criminals have become more brazen, their acts more wanton. And it’s for reasons familiar by now: the ever-present drug trade that supposedly offers young men a way out of poverty and hopelessness; the endless supply of handguns; the corruption of the department’s gun task force; the accelerated attrition that left the Baltimore Police Department with 500 fewer officers than it had in 2012.

And Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has to carry out his mission — fighting crime, recruiting and training new officers, restoring trust with citizens who had terrible experiences with cops before he got here — while under a Justice Department consent decree mandating sweeping reforms.

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Those are not excuses, they’re explanations, all stewed together into the civic tragedy we’re experiencing now.

Mayor Catherine Pugh, closing in on her first year in office, said, “Crime is out of control,” and she used that as a clarion for an urgent, all-hands-on-deck effort to deal with the city’s most serious problem at all levels of government.

Others, however, heard that statement as a concession.

Baltimore resident Owen Keith talks about the increase in violence in the city and what he thinks officials should do to help the problem. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun video)

In Chicago the other night, Rod Rosenstein, the former U.S. attorney for Maryland and now deputy U.S. attorney general, reacted to the shooting of Detective Suiter with a side comment about Pugh.

“The Baltimore City mayor admits that crime is ‘out of control.’ If that is true, people should be held accountable,” Rosenstein said. “Crime is not like the weather. If crime is out of control, it is because people failed to control it.”

And, adding to that rebuke, Rosenstein said: “In Baltimore, local authorities lost confidence in their ability to manage public safety, the most important function of government.”

Rosenstein speaks with authority. As a long-serving U.S. attorney here, he worked closely with Baltimore police and prosecutors to target the city’s most violent repeat offenders and get convictions. His office also devised a strategy to warn ex-offenders on parole or probation about the serious penalties they faced if arrested again. It was effective, with killings down 30 percent between 2006 and 2012. It needs to be revived.

I can’t imagine that Pugh appreciated Rosenstein’s remarks as constructive criticism.

The mayor disagreed with my comment in Wednesday’s column that she did not hit the ground running on crime when she took office last December. She reminded me that she had a crime-reduction plan when she campaigned for office in 2016, and the one she issued in August was an “update” of the original.

In an interview on the “Roughly Speaking” podcast, Pugh listed several points of progress since she took office, particularly with police recruitment. She emphasized aspects of her plan — programs for youth, increasing access to health services — that make it holistic and promising.

On paper, the plan is impressive, and Baltimoreans should read it. Pugh and Davis need time, and money from Annapolis and from foundations, to implement it all. But that’s the tough part — waiting for a strategy to show results as the violence continues, as we worry, as we weep for Detective Sean Suiter.

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