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A roadmap to end the plague of violence in Baltimore

The firing of Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts this week was no doubt a wrenching decision by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. But it does open a door to reset the stage so that top city leaders can all start working from the same script to address the plague of homicides and gun violence that has placed Baltimore squarely in the middle of a national debate on police use of force, crime and inequality.

It has been more than two months since civil unrest roiled the city in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray this spring while in police custody, and set off a historic spike in violence. And yet, despite assurances by the police commissioner, the mayor and Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby that they were each working to address the issue, city residents and businesses got little more than a stream of rhetoric played out in the local and national press.

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Baltimore's businesses and the city's reputation continue to be negatively impacted by the spiraling homicide rate and the perception locally and nationally that our public servants cannot work collaboratively for the common good.

Baltimore is at a pivotal point at which much is at stake — primarily more people's lives. Indeed, we are facing a major public safety crisis that requires an "all hands on deck" approach.

And so the departure of Batts should be quickly grasped as an opportunity for our elected leaders and the interim police commissioner, Kevin Davis, to begin acting and working together for the common good.

Baltimore is Maryland's economic and cultural jewel. Our elected leaders must set aside political differences and start working together to protect it. It's time for Baltimore to get its hard earned, well-deserved reputation back as a dynamic city with world-class educational, medical and corporate institutions, thriving arts and culture and some of the smartest minds in the country living and working right here.

The changing guard in the city police department isn't the sole answer for the big challenges facing the mayor and others charged with protecting the public safety. They need a roadmap for moving forward.

As leaders of major employers in the Baltimore region, we find it's time for our elected leaders to — together — decisively address the violence in our midst and to put our community on a road that reclaims Baltimore's rightful place as a city for others to congratulate and emulate.

To focus on the right things at the right time, we offer the following set of expectations — a roadmap — for elected officials at the city and state levels, the interim police commissioner, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

We expect:

•That Baltimore's mayor, interim police commissioner and city state's attorney quickly, jointly and publicly declare as their No. 1 priority addressing the ongoing homicides and gun violence in the city.

•That these leaders together prioritize, develop and articulate a clear strategy to address the plague of homicide and gun violence and be accountable for progress on it.

•That Baltimore City Police be provided with a clear set of guidelines that police officers on the street can follow for the legal arrest of suspected criminals.

•That the interim police commissioner establish a well-structured training and education program for officers on the street so there is no confusion about maintaining public safety and civil rights simultaneously.

•That the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police become part of a constructive solution to the ongoing violence in the city and re-engaging police officers with our communities.

•That elected leaders at all levels commit all available resources to quickly equip police with the equipment and technologies they need to perform their duties in today's public safety environment.

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The business community stands ready to help elected leaders bring this crisis to a close and build on it for a sustainable long-term strategy to prevent, as much as humanly possible, homicides and gun violence in our city.

The eyes of our city and a nation are on us.

Now, let's get to work. Together.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. David Warnock is managing partner of Camden Partners and chair of the GBC's board of directors. This commentary is written on behalf of the entire GBC board (gbc.org/about-us/board-of-directors).

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