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Targeting guns to reduce violent crime

A new law enforcement strategy takes hold under the radar of the gun control debate: Targeting guns and their users is seen as surest way to reduce violent crime

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Baltimore police stopped a car in October with three men suspected of possessing drugs and weapons.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

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In the roll call room of Baltimore's Northwestern District Police Headquarters, a squat building in a neighborhood of liquor stores and crumbling row houses, photos of the city's most wanted suspects flash on a new, flat-screen TV.

They are not necessarily drug kingpins or murderers or even dealers. But to Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, they are top priority in this city with one of the highest homicide rates in the country; a city that residents occasionally, grimly, refer to as Bodymore, Murderland.

They are, he says, "bad guys with guns." And he wants them off the street.

"If you start boiling down the violence in Baltimore – the homicides and the nonfatal shootings – you find that 50 percent of all the people we charge with those offenses have one thing in common: They have gun offenses in their backgrounds," Mr. Bealefeld says. "And we know that when bad guys get out, they get guns again. They don't work for IBM. They don't hand out Bibles. They stand outside with guns waiting to perpetrate another crime."

And so, Bealefeld says, he has made it clear whom his officers should be targeting.

"I don't aim to make [it] all that complicated," he says. "Find out all we can about gun offenders and focus on those guys."

After years of fighting the so-called "war on drugs" – the obsessive pursuit of everyone involved in drug crime, from users to dealers to suppliers – Bealefeld and other urban police chiefs nationwide are shifting their focus toward a new prime target: gun offenders.

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