Police Chief, New Prosecutor Survey City Crime Scene

… Bealefeld, Bernstein get a look at city’s first hours of 2011 …


By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

4:52 PM EST, January 1, 2011

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, sitting in the front passenger seat of a sport utility vehicle being driven out of Fells Point, held up his police radio and turned up the volume.

“Do you hear this?” he said.

There was silence. Not even static.

“Isn’t it nice?” Bealefeld said.

Finally, a dispatcher’s voice broke through.

“Hold on,” said Bealefeld, mocking urgency. “We got a parking complaint.”

It was about 90 minutes into 2011 and Bealefeld was out on the streets with Gregg Bernstein, who is to be sworn in Monday as the city’s new state’s attorney.

The commissioner was out thanking scores of police officers and getting a feel for the start of a new year with new enthusiasm and a clean slate of crime stats.

Up to that point, he liked what he saw: A whole lot of nothing.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” Bealefeld said, referring to his backseat passenger, Bernstein, whom he supported in a contentious race to unseat Patricia C. Jessamy from the job as Baltimore’s top prosecutor. The commissioner and his predecessors clashed with Jessamy for years over how best to fight crime and whether she was aggressive enough to confront the city’s criminals.

Bealefeld’s main goal is targeting “bad guys with guns,” and officers across the city — including the chief of patrol and the chief of detectives — seized 23 guns and made 29 gun arrests in the first three hours and 20 minutes of the new year. The first came in South Baltimore at 12:04 a.m.

In the car, Bernstein’s wife and also the mayor’s chief adviser on crime, Sheryl Goldstein, recalled how Bealefeld on New Year’s Eve 2008 had arrested two men firing celebratory shotgun blasts into the night air. He then watched as the suspects pleaded guilty in court but got no jail time from the judge.

“I wonder how that happened?” Bernstein said with a sly smile. Just hours away from claiming the top prosecutor’s job, it was a hint of a different, tougher approach to furthering Bealefeld’s ambitious drive to sweep the city streets clean of guns and criminals.

“It’s a new day,” Bealefeld said.

The commissioner was in a good mood for a reason. The city ended 2010 with 25-year lows in violent crime, with statistics declining in virtually every category — from homicide to nonfatal shootings to deaths of juveniles.

Bealefeld and Bernstein walked the Inner Harbor after the fireworks, drove into the heart of the rowdy Fells Point bar scene and cruised through East Baltimore, one of the most dangerous and deadly stretches of city real estate.

The photo-op of the night: The two law enforcement leaders pushed a broken-down white Chrysler PT-Cruiser out of traffic on East Madison Street. At another spot, a police officer leaned into the commissioner’s vehicle and said to Bernstein: “We got two guns tonight. More work for you.”

There was crime.

Shortly after 1 a.m., two people were stabbed during a fight on a street in South Baltimore’s Curtis Bay neighborhood. One of the men, who was not identified, died.

For his part, Bealefeld pulled up on a couple of street fights, which quickly dissipated when his bevy of backup arrived, and he rushed to an assault call in Southeast Baltimore where he comforted a man lying on his back on a kitchen floor after getting hit in the head with a glass bottle.

The night was relatively quiet because it seemed the New Year’s revelers were few.

Federal Hill, a prime spot for watching the fireworks over the harbor, had a sparse crowd. Police do quickly move people out when the lightshow ends, but officers said last year it took 90 minutes for the crowd to disappear.

Early Saturday morning, Bealefeld said, “There are more cops than people.”

“I’d like to see more people for the city’s sake,” the commissioner said, glancing at a largely deserted walkway just 30 minutes after the fireworks finale. “But from a law enforcement sake, I’m not going to complain.”

Bealefeld greeted every police officer, cadet and paramedic he saw.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has an election coming up and city crime pundits, noting the mayor inherited Bealefeld, have tied his future to the crime statistics. On Saturday, as Bealefeld greeted his front-line force, he delivered a consistent message to them:

“Thank you for what you did for me last year.”


Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun

… A new Captain on the Titanic. …


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