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Hands-off, passive policing will not stop crime in Baltimore

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young talk to a Baltimore resident about crime that is affecting his neighborhood. (Hallie Miller, Baltimore Sun video)

There have been so many attempts at coming up with a viable solution to solve the problem of violence on the streets of Baltimore (“Erasing Baltimore's stop snitching culture,” May 10). We have tried, and in many instances retried, various proposed solutions to the problem. We have put command staff on the street; we have put administrative personnel on the street; we have put bicycle patrols on the street; we have tried zero tolerance; we have deployed helicopters; we have put detectives in uniform on the street; we have created special units and put them on the street; we have used auxiliary police on the street; we have installed cameras and kiosks; and we have involved the computer in projecting crime patterns. Yet Baltimore remains one of the most violent cities in the nation. The question must be why that is. The answer has yet to be found.

Students of law enforcement, and its effect upon crime, will tell you that for any crime to be successfully completed there are two basic components needed. First there must be an opportunity to commit the crime, and second there must be an inclination to commit the crime. The police are able to impact one of those components, that being the opportunity factor. There is a phrase used by upper echelon command when speaking of this. They refer to it as “omnipresence.” Essentially, what that means is the public must at least have the perception that their police are everywhere all of the time. Of course it is quite impossible, and unrealistic, to try to have a police officer on every corner of every block. However, if there is a sufficiency of officers, a competent commander acting upon credible information gleaned from statistical and investigative experience can by creative deployment at least create the perception, or illusion, that his officers are in fact everywhere all of the time.

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As to the inclination to commit the crime, police have little prospect of affecting that. The inclination to commit crime begs its solution from sources other than the police, such as sociologists, criminologists, behavioral scientists, clinical psychologists, clergy and others.

So here we have, once again, the mayor and the police commissioner, “on the street” to show that they know what is going on, care about it and have some idea of what the solution to the crime problems might be. As mentioned above, this has been tried before, more than just a few times, and yet the carnage continues. I do not understand the reasoning of the author of the article “BPD should rethink approach to neighborhood canvassing” (May 13), as he says that the fact that the mayor and police commissioner are in the street, that there is in some way an oppressive police presence. As to police “strong-arming” information from potential witnesses, does the author insinuate that there are no good, law abiding citizens who would seek out the police to give them the information that they need? And to the reference to an "occupying force,” I would say that if the city is as violent as it continually proves itself to be, the mere presence of the police should be a good thing, should it not? If the police just stayed out of these problem areas, so as not to be perceived as an “occupying force,” would they not then be justifiably criticized for doing that?

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The problem with Baltimore, and it has been evidenced in various administrations, and a far too large segment of the population, is that they want the police, they just don’t want the police to bother anyone. That of course is impossible. The crime problem in Baltimore requires aggressive solutions, not passive solutions. I call it “hands off” policing, and that will never and can never work!

Robert Di Stefano, Abingdon

The writer is a retired major with the Baltimore City Police Department.

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