Sunday, January 14, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — The city has begun implementing community-policing strategies favored by incoming Mayor Sheila Dixon, including meetings between law-enforcement officials and repeat criminals.

At the meetings, known as “call-ins,” police warn criminals about long federal prison terms in an effort to persuade them to lay down their guns and stop dealing drugs.

The call-ins are part of a shift away from the zero-tolerance policing favored by the administration of outgoing Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

City police and other agencies plan to collaborate on the new anti-gang and gun-reduction strategies, which have been successful in other cities such as Boston and Chicago. New D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier also are developing community-policing strategies that they plan to implement by March.

The effort in Baltimore will require unprecedented cooperation among all facets of the criminal justice system to target violent offenders, a small number who may be responsible for most serious crimes in the city, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The basic plan is to identify repeat violent offenders, then have police, prosecutors, parole and probation officers, and social service workers bring the full weight of their offices to pressure them to pursue a law-abiding path.

Police and city leaders tried a similar plan, known as Operation Safe Neighborhoods, in the late 1990s, but the initiative collapsed as different agencies struggled to work together.

When Mr. O’Malley took office in 1999, he chose a policing strategy modeled after New York City’s aggressive enforcement of “quality of life” crimes.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm thinks the community policing approach will work better this time because Mrs. Dixon, a Democrat, and several public agencies “are on board with it.”

“We have the right people, at the right place, at the right time, and it’s all about relationships,” Chief Hamm said. “This time, we’re not going to lose it.”

Ruffin Brown, a spokesman for Mrs. Dixon, said the incoming mayor plans to talk in more detail about her plans for public safety and crime fighting after she takes office Thursday.

“She supports the slight shift to a more community-based, interagency approach,” Mr. Brown said. “She’s not giving up on aggressive policing where it has shown to be effective. But [Mrs. Dixon] has made it clear that there needs to be a balance between that approach and the community-based approach.”

Homicides in Baltimore topped 300 annually throughout the 1990s, then decreased during the O’Malley administration. However, Mr. O’Malley, now Maryland’s governor-elect, never came close to his stated goal of reducing slayings to no more than 175 a year.

Last year, 275 homicides were reported. In the first 12 days of this year, 15 persons were slain.

The call-ins are part of an approach organized by the U.S. attorney’s office known as Maryland Exile.

Last week, a city police commander showed surveillance camera footage of drug arrests to about 25 men with lengthy criminal records, repeatedly telling the audience: “We can watch you.”

Two federal prosecutors warned the men that their next arrest with drugs or a gun likely would land them in federal prison for decades.

“We want you to spread the word that the shootings and the violence is going to stop,” prosecutor Jason Weinstein told the group. “Either you’re going to stop it on your own and you’re going to put down the guns yourselves, or we’re going to stop it for you. And we’re going to put you away for what will seem [like] the rest of your life. For some of you, it will be the rest of your life.”

Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said the call-ins were a good idea but that city police and prosecutors will have to improve their working relationship to significantly reduce the population of violent offenders.

“Baltimore has a heck of a lot more violent offenders than what the federal system can handle,” he said.

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