- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2000

BALTIMORE Officials here aim to attack the city's epidemic of violence with a new approach, one with a Harvard pedigree and a track record of reducing homicide rates by 50 percent.
Operation Safe Neighborhoods, the latest incarnation of a program developed by Harvard criminologist David Kennedy, opened its "call-in" process yesterday to the media in Baltimore City's District Court of Maryland.
The program brings together a wealth of service agencies, from law enforcement to local clergy, to fight crime en masse.
Baltimore's Operation Safe Neighborhoods, which for now is focusing on violence-drenched Park Heights, will give District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams a close-up look at Mr. Kennedy's brainchild. Mr. Williams has ordered D.C. officials to begin constructing a program similar to the one implemented in Boston in 1996 to fight crime in the nation's capital.
The effort targets chronic offenders either on parole and probation, threatening them with the stiffest sentences under the law. But it also opens up the city's network of social programs for drug rehabilitation, employment aid and spiritual comfort.
Kim Morton, the program's gun-violence coordinator and police liaison, said Baltimore has "about three to four thousand people holding an entire city hostage."
"For the first time, defendants in Baltimore are no longer anonymous," said Ms. Morton.
Baltimore implemented its first call-in in February with 27 offenders from the Park Heights neighborhood. Yesterday's session included about 45 known offenders from the same community.
Since the first call-in, only six violent episodes have been reported in Park Heights, Ms. Morton said.
During yesterday's hour-plus session, young men dressed in loose-fitting jerseys sat stoically while enforcement officials ticked off a string of intimidating case studies.
Jill Myers, the assistant state attorney hired to help prosecute the influx of cases expected, emphasized the program's more personal approach to crime fighting.
"I follow each and every one of your cases," Ms. Myers told her captive audience. "I will be there at your bail reviews."
The call-in's stern messages slowly gave way toward more amenable solutions. Local clergy members warmly addressed the courtroom, pleading with their neighbors to turn toward faith, not violence. Several former addicts preached the wonders of recovery. Others appealed to the offenders' sense of cultural pride.
Ms. Morton admitted Baltimore's unique nature makes implementing the program no easy feat. The city's racial volatility is just one reason the agencies need to tread carefully while conducting call-ins, she said. And its level of violence exceeds those found in Boston.
Jim Jordan, director of strategic planning with the Boston Police Department, said its program has been integrated throughout the department.
Even the city schools are joining the fight, with officials snagging students who engage in "proto gang" activities.
Mr. Jordan suggested Baltimore shouldn't expect any instant panacea, though.
"To make it institutional, it takes time," Mr. Jordan said.
Faye Taxman, director of the bureau of government research at the University of Maryland, warned that the threat of further incarceration might not have the desired effect.
"I don't think the federal system is any more of a deterrent," Ms. Taxman said.
Of the 18- to 35-year-old population in Baltimore, more than 50 percent have frequent run-ins with the law. For them, it's a "rite of passage," Ms. Taxman said.

Funding for Operation Safe Neighborhoods comes in part from the Greater Baltimore Committee, which organized yesterday's open event and has contributed $145,000 toward the program.

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