TO DEAL WITH Prince George's County's growing problem of violent crime, exemplified by 74 murders so far this year, County Executive Jack B. Johnson has put several programs in place, and State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey has offered a crime-fighting proposal as well. The rising murder rate dictates that reasonable plans be considered -- and implemented. But will they be sufficient?
Mr. Ivey has put forth a homicide-reduction proposal that draws heavily on an out-of-state solution: the so-called Boston strategy, which has been credited with dramatically reducing murders in that city. Proponents claim the most valuable component of the Boston strategy is the "call-in" program, a novel approach to intervention for parolees and probationers who, authorities believe, are engaging in violence. They are brought before a formidable lineup of police, federal agents and prosecutors and told how police are targeting and making arrests in crime hot spots. They are further informed that they are in imminent danger of prosecution, a message reinforced by displaying the mug shots and prison terms of those who didn't heed the warning.
These call-ins, which reportedly have proven effective in other cities, also provide a forum for service providers to explain what assistance is available for those who want to turn over a new leaf. That is better than learning about programs and services once in jail, as happens now. Mr. Ivey proposes to offer those who might otherwise choose violence an opportunity to change their lives right there and then. He acknowledges that not all will take advantage of it, but some will, he believes, especially when they realize how close they may come to doing hard time. The "call-in" aspect of the Boston strategy does not require new agencies or programs, Mr. Ivey said. That may be good news for an already understaffed police force, but we still believe every effort should be made to increase the number of quality officers in Prince George's, which has suffered from a shortage of police for years.
With Mr. Ivey's proposal in mind, we turn to Mr. Johnson's 18-page summary, released last week, of current and pending initiatives aimed at curbing violence and theft. Mr. Johnson asserted at a news conference that "this isn't a hodgepodge." Oh no? Listing existing programs together in one document doesn't make them less of a hodgepodge. Mr. Johnson's "initiatives" consist of different combinations of federal agencies and county departments collaborating on individual projects, rather than an overall strategy that coordinates crime-fighting efforts. Mr. Ivey proposes that top law enforcement officials working in the county meet frequently to share information and make decisions, and he suggests assembling a professional team to analyze data -- homicide and violent-crime reports, parole and probation records, and intelligence gathered by the various agencies -- on which a strategy focused on high-crime areas can be based. The puzzle pieces for attacking the Prince George's crime problem are already on the table; what is needed is someone to put them together. With bodies falling every week, this is a time for official cooperation, not competition.