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A letter to Baltimore's interim police commissioner from Bealefeld and Bernstein

Dear Commissioner Davis:

Beginning in 2008, the number of homicides and shootings in Baltimore began to steadily decline, culminating with a homicide rate below 200 in 2011, which had not occurred since 1977 (nor been repeated since). The strategies we employed to achieve these remarkable results have been adopted in cities across the country. They are not complicated or novel; indeed, it is public safety 101. A few are discussed below, which you might consider as you take on the important and difficult role of police commissioner:

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Target the most violent offenders. In the last few years, this has become just a catch-phrase, while the nuts and bolts to effectively target and prosecute those individuals who are committing most of the violent crime in the city have been abandoned. "Bad Guys with Guns" was a multi-layered approach to first stem the wave of violence and then hold the perpetrators accountable. We accomplished this by getting the right people in the room (patrol officers, detectives, energetic and smart prosecutors, parole and probation officers, federal agents) to identify who the trouble-makers were in communities long plagued by violence and then go after them relentlessly. We showed how making fewer arrests could actually lower violent crime rates if you focused on the few who were the drivers of the violence.

We did not do it alone. Federal prosecutors stepped forward and became a critical component in the crime fight. State prosecutors began using more comprehensive prosecution strategies to build cases against networks of violent offenders, resulting in more convictions and substantially increased sentences. Parole and Probation and the Department of Juvenile Services were crucial in helping to locate potential shooters and their intended victims to get them out of harm's way. We required convicted gun offenders to register, and then dedicated and committed police officers visited them at home to monitor their activities and prevent violence before it happened. And Comstat, Gunstat and Policestat provided the data to tell us what was — and was not — working, holding us accountable.

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Engage the Community. In order to interact with the community, cops need to get out of their cars, which is a challenge with a 21st century work force that is wedded to technology but often lacks the personal skills and confidence necessary in police service work. Work stations in patrol cars are great tools, but smart phones clipped to their duty belts facilitate officers' leaving their cars and working face to face with the people they serve. And you will need to invest in training to give your officers the confidence they need to get out of their comfort zones and engage with the people in the community. Many of your officers are more fearful than you might imagine, and that fear manifests itself in aggression and inaction. Remember that policing isn't something the community wants done to them, or for them, rather they want policing done with them.

You will have to make a significant personal investment in time and energy in getting to know the people of Baltimore. Accept the fact that you are not from here and get busy learning the history of neighborhoods and the people who live there. They will be eager to embrace you but will quickly perceive if you aren't authentic.

Give people the opportunity to share their ideas and criticisms, but manage expectations. Monthly police district/community council meetings are a treasure and a great opportunity for you to get your message out to the people on the front lines. But you must be consistent in your message and admit when you or the department has made a mistake and how you are going to fix it. Simply telling people the place is broken won't win you any points. Baltimoreans want to see results, and like their cops, they don't appreciate being told that they are second rate.

Build strong partnerships. Internally, you must shore up the support of the command staff and the rank and file. You are an outsider, and more than a few of your commanders want the top job. This will cause considerable distraction when you can least afford it. Tell everyone what your goals are to ensure that all of them are contributing to getting it done.

You also need to meet quickly with all your outside partners in law enforcement. They have a wealth of experience and ideas. Be specific about what you need and what they can provide.

There are a host of influential organizations representing the business and philanthropic communities whose support you should enlist as soon as possible. You will need money to fund the improvements you need. While your budget is substantial, more than 80 percent covers salaries and benefits, which does not leave you much flexibility.

Other city and state agencies must partner with you if you are to have any chance at all. You will need to get alleys cleaned, vacant buildings boarded and public pools made accessible as places of refuge for the children on the hot summer days ahead, among other initiatives.

Parole and probation, the state's attorney's office and the feds can all be major allies if you work with them collaboratively. This is not about simply standing together in front of the TV cameras. It is about getting in a room with everyone and rolling up your sleeves in order to implement these and other strategies. And no finger-pointing. We screwed up plenty, but we didn't blame others when things did not go well.

Many are anxious for you to succeed. Many will offer their help, and you will need to know how much or how little to take. You will need dedicated partners who are true allies willing to forgo agendas, ego, and most importantly, politics. The good news is that many of these people are still around, ready and willing to reengage a strategy that was proven and, frankly, just getting started. What all of us knew was that while 2011 was historic, it was just the beginning of what could have been a major movement toward restoring confidence and cooperation between the community and the people sworn to serve it.

Of course, the police department's role in fighting crime is just one piece in a very large puzzle to make Baltimore a great city. The problems we face are much deeper than just locking up bad guys. Simply focusing on yesterday's shooting, while necessary, is short-sighted. True leadership requires an understanding that only a collaborative, thoughtful approach that works to create an educational system for our children to prepare them for life; establishes services and programs that provide assistance to families so they can live healthy, nutritional lives in affordable housing in sustainable neighborhoods; and provides an economic plan that creates jobs not only for the highly educated and entitled, is the only way to root out violent crime. Creating a safe environment for all these things to occur is the first important step.

Frederick H. Bealefeld III was commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department from 2007 until his retirement in 2012; his email is frederick.bealefeld@gmail.com. Gregg Bernstein was Baltimore's state's attorney from 2010 to 2014 and is a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP; his email is gbernstein@zuckerman.com.

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