‘Desperate’ Plan To Slow Crime

John Fritze, Baltimore Sun, May 17, 2007

Large swaths of Baltimore could be declared emergency areas subject to heightened police enforcement—including a lockdown of streets—under a city councilman’s proposal that aims to slow the city’s climbing homicide count.

The legislation—which met with a lukewarm response from Mayor Sheila Dixon’s administration yesterday, and which others likened to martial law—would allow police to close liquor stores and bars, limit the number of people on city sidewalks and halt traffic in areas declared “public safety act zones.” It comes as the number of homicides in Baltimore reached 108, up from 98 at the same time last year.

“Desperate measures are needed when we’re in desperate situations,” said City Council Vice President Robert W. Curran, the bill’s author. “What I’m trying to do is give the mayor additional tools.”

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In addition to closing businesses in the zones, the bill would permit police to limit the number of people who could gather on sidewalks, in streets or in other outdoor areas. It would prohibit the sale and possession of weapons, though Curran acknowledged that weapons used by criminals are almost always already obtained illegally. Zones could be established solely by the mayor, initially for a two weeks, with the option to renew indefinitely.

{snip}the department lost track of how many times it pats people down.

Curran’s proposal, which he said he would introduce in the City Council on Monday, is also likely to raise questions by civil libertarians, as it has in Philadelphia. Less aggressive approaches, including a 1999 program in which Philadelphia police cordoned off neighborhoods in search of residents with outstanding arrest warrants, have been successful, an expert said.

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The bill is expected to be assigned to the City Council’s Public Safety Subcommittee, which Curran chairs—virtually guaranteeing that it will receive a hearing and a vote by the full council. After that, it faces several more tough votes, and its overall prospects are unclear. A spokesman for City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said she needs to review the legislation.

A spokesman for the Police Department could not be reached for comment.

In an unusual move, Curran is introducing the proposal in three forms: as a regular ordinance that would become part of the city’s code if approved; as a charter amendment, which would require approval by city voters in this year’s election; and as a nonbinding resolution that asks the General Assembly to approve a change to the state law.

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