- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

When Baltimore's police commissioner called Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's signature anti-crime initiative a failure and pulled officers from the program last week, political observers around the state began to speculate more was at stake than keeping the city's streets safe.
After all, Commissioner Edward T. Norris was hired by and enjoys strong support from Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is frequently mentioned as a potential rival of Mrs. Townsend for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year.
Mrs. Townsend — who has all but declared her candidacy and is widely considered the front-runner — scrambled to defend the program at a hastily arranged news conference in Baltimore the next day, enlisting the aid of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and former Baltimore Police Commissioner Bishop Robinson, now the secretary of the state Juvenile Justice Department.
Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat, said yesterday the focus on statistics is narrow — especially when the city is on track to exceed 200 homicides this year.
"Even after the mayor does everything he wants, we're still going to have a city racked with crime," Mr. Rawlings told the Associated Press. "Two-hundred murders is still a lot of criminal activity."
The mayor's office disputes the notion that the commissioner's decision to redeploy 13 of the 25 officers assigned to the HotSpot program was politically motivated.
"It wouldn't have made any difference whose initiative it was," said O'Malley press secretary Tony White. "Looking at what he was able to accomplish, the commissioner and the mayor decided the commissioner's plan was the way to go."
The HotSpots program, implemented in 1997, is based on national studies that indicate crime is heavily concentrated in particular geographic areas, or hot spots. Targeted grants promote cooperation between local police, prosecutors, probation agents, prevention workers and community activists to address each community's needs and strengths.
Mr. White said the mayor and the commissioner were looking for a "wider spread approach."
Mr. O'Malley successfully campaigned in 1999 on promises to drastically reduce the city's murder rate and hired Mr. Norris to duplicate the success of his zero-tolerance policing program in New York.
Robert Weinhold, director of public and governmental affairs for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, expressed concern that the commissioner acted too hastily in reassigning the officers. He said that since 1996, crime is down an average of 41 percent in Maryland's HotSpot communities.
Twelve of the 62 geographic areas designated HotSpots statewide are located in Baltimore, and Mr. Weinhold said they have received about $10 million in state and federal funds.
But the mayor points to his own crime statistics, which show that citywide murders in Baltimore are down 24 percent, shootings are down 34 percent and violent crime is down 19 percent in Mr. Norris first year on the job. For the first time in more than a decade, Baltimore finished last year with fewer than 300 murders.
Mr. O'Malley said yesterday that Baltimore is losing its reputation as a violent, crime-ridden city.
In addition, the city's rank-and-file officers have sided squarely with the commissioner and the mayor.
"We have one leader, and that's Commissioner Norris," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents Baltimore's 3,100 police officers. Mayor O'Malley "has put his political future on the line with public safety. Why should another politician come in and tell him what to do?"
Officer McLhinney characterized Mrs. Townsend's rally as "political grandstanding."
"She had to shoot back, and she did," said Maryland political analyst Blair Lee IV, who calls the dispute "Baltimore politics at its best."
Mr. Lee said in a field of "pretenders," the popular Baltimore mayor is the only obstacle between Mrs. Townsend and the governor's office. A Mason-Dixon poll released July 25 gives Mrs. Townsend a 49 percent to 28 percent edge against the popular mayor.
Mr. Lee said he suspects Mr. O'Malley won't run but will use his status as potential challenger to extract political concessions from the Glendening/Townsend administration in the coming months.
Whether politically motivated or not, the criticism of the initiative points to what some consider a liability for Mrs. Townsend. She has oversight of state criminal justice issues and has been associated with several high-profile miscues.
In 1999, a state-run, military-style "boot camp" program for juvenile offenders was halted after reports that juveniles were being assaulted and abused.
Last year, the murder of a state trooper by a drug offender who had violated his parole more than 70 times raised concerns about the state's parole and probation practices.

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