Regular readers are well aware of the troubles that have been plaguing Baltimore, Maryland for many years now. Pervasive gang violence, an out of control murder rate, endemic poverty and government corruption have combined to leave Charm City in a terrible state. Some of the people on the front line of this crisis are the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department, who are working in a dangerous environment while dealing with challenges of their own, including fractured relations with the communities they serve and incidents of corruption that have eroded trust.

Now, however, under the leadership of a new mayor, the Baltimore PD has been allowed to take steps to turn things around. A new drive to hire officers and improve conditions on the streets is being billed as what they hope will be the Greatest Comeback Story in America. (Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Police Department wants to recruit officers to “Be a Part of the Greatest Comeback Story in America.”

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced a new $200,000 marketing campaign Monday that they hope will help fill the department’s ranks, particularly with more women, minorities and city residents.

“It’s no secret that we need more police officers on the street to help make Baltimore a safer city and to reduce the burden on our existing officers,” Harrison said at a news conference. Starting salaries for new officers are $53,512, but the total pay can increase drastically with the department’s liberal use of overtime.

This is a welcome sign that perhaps the municipal government of Baltimore is finally coming to grips with their own problems. When it comes to the Baltimore PD, they’ve had serious retention problems. They hired 95 new officers in the last year but lost 100 police during the same period. This has led to a condition where one spokesperson said the police department has 500 fewer officers than it needs. Given the current rate of murders, shootings and other violent crime, that’s a formula for failure.

They hope to recruit a large number of new officers, promising good starting salaries and benefits. More importantly, they’re hoping to diversify their ranks, hiring more people from the specific communities they will serve. Familiar faces and names may go a fair ways toward rebuilding trust and getting people to stop fearing the repercussions of cooperating with the police.

There’s more to clean up than that, however. The department has been plagued with scandals in recent years, particularly in terms of the Gun Trace Task Force debacle. Mulitple officers in that group were convicted of trafficking drugs themselves, stealing from suspects and shaking down both criminals and regular citizens. That makes the trust-building exercises all the more challenging.

Can they pull this comeback off? I’ll be praying that they can because portions of Baltimore are currently little more than unofficial war zones. In order to get businesses to come back and employ people, they have to know that the streets are safe. For students to get a good education and go on to college, they have to be able to make it to school alive and not be recruited by the gangs. The challenges facing Baltimore are daunting and their population continues to fall, but they’ve got to try something. This is a city in crisis and it’s good to see the new municipal leaders at least trying to lead the way.