- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend counts oversight of public safety among her key responsibilities and is expected to make much of it next year in her run for governor.
So when Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley this summer criticized her signature Hot Spot Communities Initiative for getting "marginal results" and not making the best use of his police, he started a political firestorm.
Quelled by almost $2 million in additional state aid to underwrite the cost of Mrs. Townsend's program in Baltimore, the controversy and Mr. O'Malley are smoldering now.
Extra state funds are welcome, but not with strings that can hamper deploying city police officers where they are most needed, said Mr. O'Malley, who was elected two years ago, largely on his promise to cut crime.
"It has been more of an economic-development tool and more effective as a jobs program," he said earlier this month. "I'd rather have the money put into additional police programs."
At Mr. O'Malley's insistence, all 25 Baltimore Hot Spot officers are again under the control of city police-district commanders.
The Hot Spot program aims to improve declining neighborhoods where crime has increased. State funds pay for expanded patrols, enforcement, after-school activities in the Hot Spot neighborhood and part of the salary and costs of police officers who coordinate enforcement and community outreach.
Each county has at least one "Hot Spot" community. And Baltimore where more than a quarter of all Maryland's counted crimes were committed last year has 12 Hot Spots, half of which have been in the program since it began.
Last year, the state paid for more than 68,000 hours of extra policing in Hot Spots, as well as other costs. And total state spending on Hot Spots has increased from $4.5 million in 1997 to $6.5 million this year.
Hot Spot spokesman Robert Weinhold argues that the enhanced trust the program builds between the community and police is worth more.
"Without it, officers can't do their jobs effectively, and Hot Spots builds that foundation," Mr. Weinhold said.
Neighborhoods in the Hot Spot program have averaged a 32 percent drop in crime since the program began in 1997, beating the 25 percent minimum goal Mrs. Townsend set when she and local leaders selected 36 communities where she believed extra enforcement could cut crime and curb decline.
Behind the good news for those struggling neighborhoods is a sobering reality that Mr. O'Malley only hinted at when he criticized the program and put Hot Spot officers back under the sole direction of city police commanders.
Violent and property crime at Hot Spots have dropped faster than the state and national averages, but violent crime in Maryland has not. Nationally, there was a 15.6 drop in violent crime from 1996 to 2000, but only an 11.38 percent decline in Maryland.
Maryland ranks as the sixth-most-dangerous state in the nation more dangerous than immediately neighboring states and than any Southern states, except Louisiana and Florida, according to Morgan Quitno Press, an independent private research and publishing company based in Lawrence, Kan. The latest rankings show Maryland's robbery rate is the highest of any state and its murder rate is the fourth-highest.
Among U.S. cities last year, Baltimore had the second-highest violent-crime rate behind Atlanta, according to Morgan Quitno Press.
But Mr. O'Malley's staff contends the Hot Spot program rewards some communities at the expense of others and moves criminals from one neighborhood to another.
Crime "displacement" is difficult to measure, but designers of such programs need to build in "controls" to track it and respond when it occurs, said Michael R. Smith, associate professor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
State officials overseeing the Hot Spot programs cited no specific measures to indicate that crime is not just moving somewhere else.
Instead, they cited a 1997 report by the National Institute of Justice and the University of Maryland that states that studies of other "place-focused prevention [and] enforcement" programs show that crime displacement is limited and does not outweigh program benefits.
They even suggest that enforcement in Hot Spots may deter criminals outside those communities, although the numbers don't suggest that's the case.
The state has paid University of Pennsylvania criminologist Lawrence W. Sherman to study Hot Spot communities and his report is expected sometime next year, Mr. Weinhold said.
Still, police around Maryland said they believed Hot Spot communities benefited from the program and said they saw no clear signs that crime was moving next door.
"Even if we took the police department [component] out of Hot Spots, the youth initiative is valuable for its long-term goal of keeping kids out of crime," said Montgomery County Police Cmdr. John M. Fitzgerald, whose districts include the Germantown Hot Spot.
Cmdr. Fitzgerald said it is inevitable that some criminals move to neighborhoods where it's easier to operate. But he attributes 30 percent to 94 percent increases in violent crime in the Germantown Hot Spot to extremely high population growth and the problems associated with a high proportion of young, struggling households.
So Mrs. Townsend can claim success for her Hot Spot program, and both she and Mr. O'Malley can claim some credit for reducing some crime statewide. But whoever becomes a candidate for governor can expect to be asked why Maryland remains such a dangerous place and what he or she plans to do about it.
Elected two years ago largely on his promise to cut crime, Mr. O'Malley says he's focused on running Baltimore. He says he won't decide about running for governor until spring after the assembly adjourns and the state budget is approved.

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