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Targeting guns: a cop's new priorities

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He has become known as being exceptionally blunt, a colorful character who can disarm criminals, politicians, and citizens alike. The Baltimore Sun once published a column of Bealefeld quotes turned into poetry; after losing a bet with the mayor's office over who could best run the Baltimore Marathon, the commissioner sang – badly – Whitney Houston's "I'm Every Woman" on a popular radio show. He's a regular participant in neighborhood safety walks, meets with community groups across the city, and still plays in multiple weekly ice hockey games.

But more important than the image, people here say, are the results underlying the personality: Under his leadership, Baltimore has seen the lowest homicide numbers in 20 years; nonfatal shootings are also at a decades-long low. And according to the mayor's office, the number of complaints called in against the police – in the past an almost daily event – have dropped significantly.

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Earlier this decade, Baltimore tried to implement a "zero tolerance" policing policy – a strategy used to much acclaim in New York City, where officers arrested people for the most minor of violations. Get the troublemakers off the street, the theory went, and less trouble will happen; moreover, police might get tips from small-time crooks to nab the truly dangerous criminals.

In Baltimore, however, that strategy didn't make a dent: Homicides continued upward, and the historically bad relationship between police and black residents deteriorated further.

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