A change in Baltimore

The City of Baltimore, long home to some of the nation's toughest streets, is experiencing a crime-fighting renaissance of sorts -- will it stand the test of time?

Baltimore's two-pronged approach focuses on violent offenders and guns. Police developed a list of the city's 120 most dangerous criminals and Baltimore's finest keeps them in constant view. Officers pay special attention to neighborhoods they frequent, concentrating on tips and leads generated around these fine citizens. While police don't stop working other crimes, those top offenders occupy what on the surface seems like a disproportionate amount of official time. Police also responded to weapons concerns by creating a gun offender registry, which operates along the same lines as traditional sex offender registries.

The changes were implemented at the instigation of Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld, III, who assumed his duties in mid-2007. He decided that perhaps Baltimore's cops needed to tackle their issue from a different approach, and instead of scattering their best efforts by going after everything that appeared on their radar, they would instead concentrate on the worst of the worst. The tactic appears to be working.

Homicides have dipped, as have nonfatal shootings. And while the numbers look promising, criminal justice experts are taking a cautious approach to Baltimore's experiment.

However, whether Baltimore finds a new solution that helps it police better and more efficiently or not, one fact remains undeniable: Baltimore police are setting the pace by trying something new and different. And, in criminal justice circles, new approaches to old problems can be anomalies.

It's a fact: Police don't embrace change. In fact, most cops would be happy if the old way of doing things remained the status quo forever. Yet, innovations can make the jobs of officers both easier and safer.

Although community policing is today's standard, back when the words and concept first surfaced, many officers believed the new approach to policing would be a total waste of time. They were firmly embedded in the old way of doing things.

Community policing not only served the taxpayer well, but it brought the police and the public they serve closer together on the issues. While it's true community policing itself is not a panacea for all criminal justice issues, the approach has helped law enforcement identify areas that need improvement and allowed them the opportunity to make those changes.

Law enforcement is typically criticized for its inflexibility and in some ways it should be inflexible: Officers should always seek high moral ground and remember they are part of the community they police. But when it comes to seeking change as a natural part of the war on crime, cops often lag behind other professions, particularly in comparison to the private sector.

Baltimore is not only stepping in the right direction, it's a step off into the unknown -- and that's a good thing. We can't operate with a safety net all the time if we want to find inexpensive working solutions to the problems that present themselves.

Take a cue from Baltimore: Start looking at your jurisdiction's problems through less jaundiced eyes and see what solutions might be out there, just waiting to be discovered.

Carole Moore welcomes comments at carolemoore_biz@yahoo.com.