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Give Baltimore Police Commissioner Harrison time to develop a crime plan

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison names two new deputy commissioners from outside the department who will oversee key areas. Two days later, police said one of those deputies -- Michelle Wilson -- was no longer joining the department.

City Council President Brandon Scott and Budget Committee Chairman Eric Costello don’t seem to think Baltimore’s new police commissioner is moving fast enough to come up with a crime plan for the city and have given Michael Harrison a public deadline of Friday to devise one. We appreciate their sense of urgency but would ask them to be a little more patient with Mr. Harrison.

Mr. Harrison just took the post in March, a mere three months ago. He has gotten plenty done since then and has not sat around idly twiddling his thumbs. He is deep into the work of revamping the structure of the department, which is ultimately a part of a strategy to fight crime. Fixing inefficient processes, antiquated technology and dysfunctional accountability measures are at least as important, if not more so, than drafting a new set of patrol and deployment tactics.

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It is only fair to give Mr. Harrison time to get the lay of the land in a city that’s new to him and to acquaint himself with an entirely new department of thousands of officers. We wouldn’t want him to come in and simply implement the same plan he used to fight New Orleans crime, though he may very well pull from some of the strategies that worked there. There are some similarities between the two cities, but Baltimore is not the “Big Easy” and comes with its own problems and structures. For one, Mr. Harrison did not have to engage with a police union while running the department in his hometown.

He also needs time to speak to his command staff and ask for their ideas and look at what has worked and what has not. Police spokesman Matt Jablow told The Sun the commissioner is still doing a review of the department, and we think that’s eminently sensible given the short amount of time he has held the post. Mr. Harrison said from the start he needed to focus on the basics of modernizing the department and operating under a federal consent decree. He is also confronted with the tough task of changing the culture of a department dealing with police corruption. That can’t happen in just a few months.

We would expect the same courtesy of any new commissioner. Baltimore County officials just made history with the hiring of the county’s first female police chief. We can bet Melissa Hyatt, will need time to learn how everything works in the county even though she spent more than two decades in the city police department.

We understand Mr. Scott’s and Mr. Costello’s concerns about crime and can imagine what they are hearing from their constituents. Homicides continue to mount with no sign of letting up, and assaults by some youth in the Inner Harbor have raised concerns about the perception of safety in the city. No doubt about it, that is a real problem. The urgency is increasing to get crime under control, particularly as the summer season approaches. But we also smell a bit of political posturing that doesn’t help.

Mr. Harrison’s hiring was approved by a unanimous vote of the City Council. They now need to have patience and trust him to do what they hired him to do — and give him time to do it. Public demands for a crime fighting plan with an arbitrary deadline give the impression the council is not totally confident in its new commissioner. We don’t think that is the perception city lawmakers intend to leave.

Baltimore’s crime problem has been years in the making and won’t be solved overnight. It is more than just a homicide number, and the police are just one part of the equation in the crime fight. They can solve homicide cases and institute prevention strategies that get guns off the street, address the drug trade and attempt to break up gangs. But there are a host of other issues related to poverty, social problems and economic investment that others, including the City Council and business community, need to address.

That said, Mr. Harrison will eventually need to be held accountable. Ultimately, people will be looking for a drop in burglaries, assaults, homicides and other crimes. They will want to see strides being made to make the city as safe as it can be. That is a fair expectation. We don’t want to look up a year from now and find that no real change taken place.

It seems Mr. Harrison doesn’t intend for that to happen either, though he is not succumbing to the City Council’s demands. A spokesman for the police department has told the council members that it won’t have a written plan by Friday, but that something will be ready in a few weeks. We think that is more than reasonable.

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