The Baltimore Police Department has shifted its focus away from arresting drug offenders to going after those who carry guns, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
This law enforcement philosophy is born of the growing acknowledgment that millions of dollars and arrests have done little to slow urban America's drug trade, and that a fresh strategy is needed to further reduce violence in the country's toughest cities. From new gunshot-detection cameras in New Haven, Conn., to a gun-offender registry in Baltimore; from a Sacramento, Calif., law requiring gun dealers to notify police about people who buy bullets to a proposal approved by the Los Angeles City Council that would let landlords evict tenants convicted of gun crimes, city police departments and governments are putting new emphasis on fighting illegal guns.
The shifts are local, differ from city to city, and are largely beneath the radar of the national gun control debate. Yet taken together, it is a sea change in how cities are attempting to tackle what has often been viewed as hopeless, ingrained urban violence, say criminal justice analysts.
Which all seems familiar. For at least a decade, New York City police have emphasized going after guns. A lot of that involves having cops on the street who can stop and frisk potential gun-holders and arrest those who hold the guns illegally or for quality of life violations to get them off the streets. So much so that the NYPD has come under fire for its increase in stops and frisks, which bump against concerns about privacy and profiling, particularly because many of those frisked are black, Latino and innocent of any crime.
The only new thing about the Maryland approach may be the willingness to make fewer drug arrests, and support for that idea on the federal level. Decriminalizing drugs is one of the solutions Chris Mitchell presented in New York magazine two years ago as a possible way to get the murder rate down to zero, or close. The other proposals were brain studies used to spot potentially violent people and increasing police presence in homes prone to domestic violence incidents. All of those would require Americans to rethink, to varying degrees, the ways in which we live and the freedoms we have.
In New York, it's not at all clear that the victims of profiling by police have accepted being stopped and searched just in case they have a gun, and of course they shouldn't. So while it's nice to have a theoretical argument about whether you'd prefer a police state to a world in which you have a chance of being murdered, if you're not a young male of color you are unlikely to have to deal with either.
It could work for Baltimore, which has one of the highest murder rates in the country, like it may have worked in New York City, but New York City is still working to straighten out the appropriate price to pay.
-- Monica Potts