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The Nose

Westward Ho

Posted 4/25/2001

Last summer, the Baltimore City Police Department rolled out its heaviest artillery with equally heavy ballyhoo. With much fanfare, more than 120 officers and supervisors flooded the streets of the Eastern District, determined to bring down crime in the most violent part of the city.

The massive attack seems to have worked. As of April 18, there had been only two fewer homicides in the Eastern than on the same date last year--15 compared to 17--but other crimes are way down in the district. Aggravated assaults--violent attacks in which the victim survives, including nonfatal shootings--have fallen 31 percent (from 405 to 279), robberies 41 percent (224 to 132), and burglaries 20 percent (238 to 191).

So it's hardly surprising that police are applying the same tactics to the Western District, the city's second most crime-prone sector. On April 10, the Safe Streets Operation started in the Western, deploying 43 officers and supervisors. Unlike the east-side effort, which pulled officers from every other district in the city, the west-side initiative is using mostly homegrown talent. Western officers who got sent east last year returned, and a number of their colleagues were moved from patrol into Safe Streets. (The patrol slots are being filled by newly minted cops from the academy and by officers from tactical units, when they aren't needed for their regular jobs, such as handling hostage situations.)

What is a little surprising is that, unlike last year's Eastern push, the westward movement comes as violence there is already on the downturn. Crime in the district is falling in most major categories--as of April 14, aggravated assault and robbery were down 16 percent and 27 percent, respectively, and there had been 14 homicides, compared to 17 last year. (The only increase has been in burglary, up 13 percent.)

Usually under such circumstances we catch the heady whiff of PR, but all has been quiet on the Western front: The operation kicked off without so much as a press conference.

We took our befuddlement to Police Commissioner Edward Norris: Why the big play when crime is already dropping in the district? Because decline or no, the Western is still the city's second-most-violent turf, he said. We were disarmed, so to speak. Even the normally cynical Nose is forced to admit that, this time at least, it seems police are doing something not because of how it looks but because they simply think it needs to get done.

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