Don Fry Commentary: All hands on deck in Baltimore

As the drumbeat of daily news reminds us, Baltimore continues to see high rates of violent crime for yet another year, especially shootings and homicides.

In the past seven days, a 36-year-old man was killed by gunfire in Cherry Hill and two unidentified men were gunned down on the same street in the Pimlico area.

A crime reduction strategy released recently by Baltimore’s Police Commissioner Michael Harrison provides glimmers of hope that the city can begin to turn away from such tragic daily mayhem and solve the vexing issue of violent crime that rattles Baltimore.

“The ultimate goal of our crime reduction strategy is to reduce the victimization and fear of victimization of violent crime in Baltimore City,” Harrison’s Crime Reduction and Departmental Transformation Plan states.

That may seem an understatement, given four consecutive years of murders eclipsing 300 in the city and 2019 shaping up equally bad with 189 homicides as of July 24.

But in fact, there’s a lot to cheer and support in the plan.

It’s important to keep in mind that the plan is not a magic elixir that will solve this issue quickly. Success may be incremental at first.

In addition, the new commissioner faces a number of challenges.

These include: a federal consent decree that mandates transformational reforms within the city’s police department to address systemic racial and other issues; a culture of police corruption; a significant shortage of trained patrol officers; and the need to replace outdated technologies to track, analyze and report crime.

To tackle all of this and put the crime plan into high gear, the commissioner must have the broad and committed support of state and local elected officials, law enforcement partners, business, community and faith leaders — and Baltimore City residents.

This is really an “all hands on deck” moment for Baltimore.

Two-pronged strategy

A key highlight of the plan is that it aims to address crime, especially violent crime, with a comprehensive two-pronged approach focused on short-term and long-term problems and issues.

Addressing Baltimore’s crime problem with a two-pronged approach is a strategy the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) Task Force on Public Safety recommended in 2017 and has been promoting to elected state and city leaders and law enforcement officials ever since.

The first prong is short term: crime reduction. The second prong is long term: prevention (i.e. addressing key underlying issues that pull people into crime, such as the lack of job opportunities, and addressing challenges confronting returning citizens as they adjust back into society from incarceration).

The words of the GBC task force are still relevant: “At this point in our city’s history, we cannot choose between reducing the crime happening on our streets today and preventing crime in the future. Both strategies must be pursued concurrently and with equal levels of commitment. “

Short-term tactics that are contained in Harrison’s plan that are deserving of support include:

  • Leveraging crime data and analytics to dedicate police resources in specific micro-zones in the city that have experienced high rates of violent crime during the past five years.
  • Ensuring police response times of 10 minutes or less for high priority calls when life or property is in immediate danger.
  • Targeting the most violent drug trafficking and criminal groups for elimination and getting guns off the streets.
  • Having detectives report to district commanders to ensure patrol officers, community residents and detectives share leads to solve crimes.
  • Improving internal accountability with a new system to track allegations and complaints against police officers and a program to train officers to report suspicious behavior by fellow officers.

Long-term tactics that are worthy of support include:

  • Developing a pipeline of job opportunities for adults and juveniles returning to the city after a period of incarceration — a solution consistent with the GBC’s Coalition for a Second Chance efforts.
  • Connecting with community leaders and stakeholders in the criminal justice system to steer youth away from crime and violence — another approach the GBC has been involved through its support of Roca, a well-regarded youth crime prevention program.
  • Rebuilding trust, deterrence and crime leads in local communities by targeting known repeat offenders.
  • Upgrading or adding police technologies as part of the consent decree that will bring the police department fully into the digital age and improve overall efficiency.

The strategic plan calls for significant investment and change – tough for any organization but none more so than a police department that’s been challenged for many years.

But a comprehensive roadmap to address short and long-term issues is important to success.

As the city embarks on this journey with Harrison and his department, it is important to be mindful of the words from the commissioner in the opening message of his crime plan:

“Good police work is all about developing positive relationships with members of the community — no matter who they are, where they live or what they do for a living. These relationships will make our officers better at what they do and make Baltimore a stronger and safer city.”

He’s right. It’s time for all of us to be supportive and let the strategy go to work.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a frequent contributor to The Daily Record. This column originally appeared in The Daily Record on Thursday, July 25.