Baltimore Councilman Wants to Put Neighborhoods Under Lockdown to Cut Murder Rate

A city council leader, alarmed by Baltimore's rising homicide rate, wants to give the mayor the power to put troubled neighborhoods under virtual lockdown.

"Desperate measures are needed when we're in desperate situations," City Council Vice President Robert W. Curran told The (Baltimore) Sun. He said he would introduce the legislation next week.

Under Curran's plan, the mayor could declare "public safety act zones," which would allow police to close liquor stores and bars, limit the number of people on city sidewalks, and halt traffic during two-week intervals.

Police would be encouraged to aggressively stop and frisk individuals in those zones to search for weapons and drugs.

Baltimore has tallied 108 homicides already this year, compared to 98 over the same period last year. Police and prosecutors also say they are facing a "stop snitching" culture that discourages victims and witnesses from cooperating with investigators trying to get criminals off the streets.

Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a mayoral hopeful, said Curran's idea was an interesting concept but it raised questions about civil liberties.

"We have to make sure we're not declaring martial law," he said.

Mayor Sheila Dixon had a lukewarm response after meeting with Curran on Wednesday, but she said she might support the idea with some changes.

"We're already currently in those communities. We're bringing the resources and services to the communities," Dixon said. "I want him to build on what we're attempting to do."

Curran said he modeled his plan after an approach advocated by Philadelphia mayoral candidate Michael Nutter, who won the Democratic nomination Tuesday. Nutter has called for declarations of a "state of emergency" in high-crime neighborhoods, where police would conduct aggressive stop-and-frisk searches and impose curfews.

Curran, who also sponsored Baltimore's recently passed smoking ban, said he expects opposition.

"Some of the critics of the smoking ban were telling me, 'If you want to save lives in Baltimore, do something about the murder rate, do something about the gun violence,"' he said. "I'm trying to stop the murders, to reduce the mortality rate from gun violence in this town."