- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Baltimore lawmakers have rejected a proposal to allow the mayor to lock down streets and close businesses in high-crime zones, the most recent attempt to curb violence the city.

The proposal, which was introduced by City Council member Robert W. Curran, a Democrat, also would have granted police extended search powers.

“I think Councilman Curran’s heart was in the right place,” said council member Kenneth Harris Sr., a Democrat and candidate for council president.

Violent crime continues to vex city officials and politicians during this election year.

There have been 110 homicides so far this year, and 265 non-fatal shootings.

The 15-member council unanimously rejected Mr. Curran’s proposal Monday but acknowledged the city’s violent-crime problems.

“While I do agree that desperate times call for desperate measures, I do not agree that trampling on citizens’ civil liberties is the answer,” said council member Keifer J. Mitchell Jr., a Democrat also running for mayor. “This bill gives the mayor tremendous power, tantamount to declaring martial law, and I have grave reservations about that.”

Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Democrat, since taking office in January has attempted to return the city to a policy of community policing, instead of former Mayor Martin O’Malley’s zero-tolerance policy.

“Mayor Dixon has put together a public-safety strategy that she thinks is working,” said administration spokesman Anthony McCarthy. “She appreciates Councilman Curran’s enthusiasm and putting the issue of violent crime on the table for further debate. And she’s pleased that her council colleagues want to give her strategy a chance.”

Mr. Curran did not return phone calls to respond to this story.

Representatives of the Baltimore City Police Department said the discussion is essential but such tactics as searches and closing businesses goes too far.

“There’s human lives being wasted every day; it’s a violent city,” said Paul M. Blair Jr., president of the city’s police union. “We’re the ones who have to carry out the law, [but] we really don’t want to get into enforcing martial law.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, received broad support in 1999 in his first run for mayor when he promised to adopt New York City’s “zero tolerance” style of policing.

While it helped launch Mr. O’Malley’s political career, it also drove a wedge between city police and the neighborhoods in which they were working.

“While mayor for seven years, Martin O’Malley reduced violent crime by nearly 40 percent and proof of this success is the record investment throughout Baltimore,” O’Malley spokesman Sasha Leonhardt said yesterday.

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