Donald Fry: New city police plan offers fresh crime-reduction framework

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By Donald C. Fry 

As Baltimore City concludes a year in which it experienced the most homicides in four years, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts is unveiling an aggressive new strategic plan to reduce violent crime by targeting “gangs, guns, and repeat offenders.”

The number of homicides in Baltimore City in 2013 – 232 as of December 27 – is the most in the city since 2009, when 240 homicides were recorded here, according to data from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

City residents can expect an immediate “relentless focus on violent repeat offenders,” Batts told Greater Baltimore Committee leaders recently. He noted that the city’s crime rate is essentially driven by two city districts – the Western District, which had the most homicides of any city district in 2013, and the Eastern District.

Both can expect a special focus from police in 2014. Cutting crime in those two districts would reduce crime in the city 50 percent, said Batts.

While the city police department’s Strategic Improvement Plan details a “get tough” approach on violence-prone segments of the community, it also includes a pledge for much better customer service for the vast majority of law-abiding city residents.

The strategic plan, completed in November and available online, is designed to directly address concerns of city residents reflected in community surveys conducted in 2012 by the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy, and in 2013 by the police department.

Among other things, only 47 percent of respondents to the Schaefer Center survey said they were satisfied by police “responsiveness” in their community. Only 50 percent believe that police are “approachable,” while 47 percent said they are satisfied with police “professionalism,” and only 42 percent are satisfied with police efforts at “preventing crime.”

The three most important police services identified by respondents to an October 2013 survey by police were addressing violent crime, responding to 911 calls and addressing illegal gang activity, all of which more than 90 percent of respondents listed as important police services. Yet only 31, 47 and 25 percent of respondents voiced satisfaction with police services relating to these respective top priorities.

Eighty-nine percent of city residents rated addressing property crime as a highly important police service, but only 27 percent expressed satisfaction with current police service relating to property crime.

The survey results “may seem like this is a jab, but I don’t see it that way. I see it as an opportunity,” said Batts. “We understand what our customer base is asking of us. What we need to do is adapt our organization to fill the needs of our customer base.”

The new strategic plan outlines steps to be taken by the Baltimore City Police Department during the next five years “to reduce crime, improve service, increase efficiency, redouble community engagement, and provide for the highest standards of accountability.”

Major elements of the plan include:

  • -- Reduce violent crime by targeting gangs, guns, and repeat offenders.
  • -- Build relationships of trust with the community and collaborate with other organizations.
  • -- Bolster support systems to strengthen data quality and improve information sharing to generate timely intelligence.
  • -- Maintain high standards of ethics and integrity and accountability.
  • -- Be a "learning organization" to achieve expertise in all aspects of law enforcement.

Over the next five years, the strategic plan calls for, among other things, a strong collaboration with the community in strategic and tactical policy development and a focus on "outcomes rather than simply activities."

It also aims to achieve internal police management policies that show respect for employees and the value of the work they do, a more efficient police department that provides "greater value for the resources allocated,” improved accountability, a robust "take back public spaces" campaign, maximum assignments to neighborhood policing and a police organization "focused on truthfulness at all times."

This strategic plan articulates a solid vision for addressing a tenacious penchant for violent crime that for decades has brought tragedy to Baltimore City neighborhoods and detracted from the city’s quality of life and its economic potential.

As a community, we need to actively join Commissioner Batts and the city police department in a pursuing this “no excuses” approach to reducing crime.

This plan provides a reality check, introspection and a serious commitment to progress by the police department.

It also offers community leaders, educators, the business sector and civic advocates a viable framework for participating in a collective strategy to rid Baltimore of the chronic violence in our midst.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.