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Mayor's race on the issues: Public safety

With Baltimore's homicide rate at an all-time high in 2015, fighting crime has rightly taken a central place in the race to replace Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Three of the major candidates — former mayor Sheila Dixon, Councilman Nick Mosby and attorney Elizabeth Embry — have already released position papers on fighting crime that focus not just on reducing violence but also on restoring trust between the police and the community. There is substantial overlap between the three but also some key differences voters should consider.

Ms. Dixon was the first candidate to release her crime plan, which includes four main components: reducing gun violence through targeted enforcement, increasing professionalism and accountability in the police department, coordinating efforts by other city agencies to increase public safety, and rebuilding trust between the police and community. It includes a number of vitally important ideas, like increasing coordination between local, state and federal officials to target violent, repeat offenders; increasing officer training with an emphasis on techniques to de-escalate situations; strengthening the civilian oversight board; viewing crime as a part of broader economic and public health problems; and fostering ties between the police and community, faith and business leaders.

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It is, however, more a statement of principles — albeit good ones in most cases — rather than a precise road map. To some extent, this can be excused, in that it reflects Ms. Dixon's experience in leading the city during a time when violent crime rates were on the decline. We know what we'd be getting. But that experience cuts both ways; the department endured a number of corruption scandals during her tenure, and it generated substantial civilian complaints about aggressive policing practices. In as much as Ms. Dixon deserves credit for moving the city away from the mass arrests of the Martin O'Malley era, she also has to answer for the Violent Crimes Impact Section, a unit that used plainclothes officers to target high crime areas and generated significant complaints and misconduct lawsuits. Many of the cases Sun reporter Mark Puente documented in his 2014 "Undue Force" investigation — including an 87 year-old-grandmother shoved to the ground and a pregnant woman choked by officers — took place during the Dixon administration.

Ms. Embry also has substantial experience in the city's criminal justice system — she was a deputy state's attorney and head of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, and she is currently on leave as head of the criminal division in the Maryland attorney general's office — and it shows in the depth and breadth of her plan. She draws not only on what has worked in Baltimore before — such as GunStat, a Dixon administration initiative that Ms. Dixon oddly does not directly reference in her plan; Safe Streets and CeaseFire — but also national best practices. In areas where her plans and Ms. Dixon's overlap, Ms. Embry generally gives more detail, for example specifying that she will increase accountability in the police department by ending a practice in which internal disciplinary proceedings for officers are put on hold until any criminal investigations are complete.

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She discusses many of the hot-button issues related to policing and crime in the city, like the use of body cameras, reforms to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights and policies to end the War on Drugs. But she also offers proposals other candidates aren't discussing, like ending a cash bail system that often serves to punish the poor rather than to protect the public, improving educational services in the juvenile justice system and pressing for automatic expungement of criminal records where possible. If there's a misstep in her public safety platform, we can't find it.

The same cannot quite be said for Councilman Mosby. He has also put together a detailed proposal that includes a wide range of good ideas — but also a few clunkers. We are heartened to see Mr. Mosby insist that the city should stop requiring non-disclosure agreements for those who receive settlements in police misconduct cases. They are unnecessary and diminish transparency. He's right to seek to utilize the resources of Coppin State University to improve police education and training and to reform the city's use of statistics-driven crime fighting to incentivize outcomes that are most significant to the community. (Ms. Embry also has some good ideas on that score.) His ideas for fighting crime by tackling addiction are good, and his determination to accelerate the implementation of police body cameras is needed.

But some of his ideas go a bit too far. Mr. Mosby, like Ms. Dixon and Ms. Embry, wants to empower the city's Civilian Review Board — a necessity in the effort to repair police-community relations. But his idea of making seats on the board elected positions would be cumbersome and risks politicizing the process. Likewise, his desire to increase retention of veteran officers is laudable, but his idea of requiring new recruits to sign a non-compete clause forbidding them from working for a department in a neighboring jurisdiction for a time after leaving the city police is probably unworkable and would certainly hinder recruitment of good candidates.

In general, Ms. Dixon, Ms. Embry and Mr. Mosby have set a high bar for the other candidates when they address public safety and police accountability. But Ms. Embry's position paper stands out. It displays an understanding of the inter-related causes of Baltimore's problems and reflects a progressive, smart-on-crime approach to tackling them. Whoever is elected mayor in November should keep it close at hand.

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