Friday, October 10, 2008

The Commish was upset about Northwood!

Buz attended a meeting at the Northeastern District last night, which featured the mayor and the Police Commissioner addressing the mostly, about 85% African-American, homeowners and taxpayers who live in the district and are frustrated about crime--an issue which gained more traction recently with the murder of former Councilman Ken Harris.

I was especially delighted to see the anger and audacity to speak truth about the situation on the part of Commissioner Bealefeld. He also expressed a bit of frustration with the situation. A couple of tidbits from the upset Commish:
  • Just this past Sunday, in "broad daylight" a woman closing her store in Northwood Plaza was accosted, and forced back into the store, where she was robbed--just four doors down from the Haven!
  • The Commissioner was upset that, with all the emphasis and "commotion" regarding Northwood, this crime was still able to occur, and during the day. At one point, he  practically shouted "someone's not doing their job!" By that he probably meant that the police patrols, and first line supervision, despite the robberies and murders, are not able or willing to do basic police work: patrolling, checking, getting out on foot, etc. (It's systemic problems, along with motivation supervision and training all mixed up here, Commish)
  • He then revealed that the police have received only two phone call tips regarding Harris's murder, despite all the publicity. He, like me, knows that there are folks out there who know. These guys are out and about in the area, probably in the same neighborhood, smoking weed, drinking, hanging out, not going to work, all the things which constitute 'failure to do right'.
  • The Commissioner pointed out that he sat in the shopping center for an hour and a half and no officers noticed him: how would they notice any bad guys?
The meeting opened with a re-iteration of desires of the community by Mary Pat Clarke: that an additional patrol sector be created for the Northeastern district, staffed by 3 sergeants and 33 police officers. And the owners of the shopping center be called in on the carpet and required to be in compliance with the PUD (planned unit development)-a thingamajig granting an exception for zoning.

Mary Pat, God bless her: I love her to death: But Buz thinks she was dead wrong in her statement that because the shopping center is private property, the owners need to stop using the city police as their security guards. She compared this to the private property such as Johns Hopkins Homewood campus or Morgan State's campus. One problem: those colleges are open to the public at times, but basically are for the students and faculty and staff. A shopping center by its nature INVITES THE PUBLIC to come shop, browse, and in this case eat and drink there.  A strip shopping center is a very public place. And we taxpayers want to be protected there like any public street and we want those businesses to succeed and flourish. It's not like an enclosed mall which is just a very big building--though that too is open to the public.
Actually, using off-duty city police as security in uniform probably would not be a bad idea, because the severity of the criminal element in the area is such that even armed private security guards might not be enough to drive the criminals out and the retail mix there is such that not very well off customers are going to come.
(Buz went to Towson Town Center recently and there were FOUR off-duty county police officers, armed, and in uniform, working for the shopping center. One officer told me that , especially on Fridays they need 4, and sometimes more, to maintain order--in addition to the center's own large private security guard force--gangs he was told.)

The commissioner seemed very reluctant to promise the extra sector concept or any other large amount of additional manpower--not even temporarily. Buz wonders if City Hall is calling the shots here: there's probably a concern that every other district will say "me too". 

The mayor and commissioner both lauded the drop in crime and the 4-day, 10-hour shift the Northeastern is using: giving the district more staffing between 9pm and 2am than any other district. It didn't seem to help much in the Harris case nor did it seem to assuage the majority of citizens who spoke last night as being disappointed, if not frustrated with their police service. Northeastern still has only 151 sworn police at NED, just 9 less than authorized strength. (All the districts have 160 officers authorized no matter how big they are, or how busy, or how bad the crime. Eastern, Western, and to some degree Southwestern are supplemented perpetually with Tactical, Traffic, and Violent Crime Impact Division units, though).

The mayor somewhat oddly, during her opening remarks, cited a survey taken by Baltimore's Tourism officials proudly proclaiming that the tourists felt Bmore is a safe city. When one of the citizens interrupted asking, logically, where did those tourists go when they came to town, she was sort of scolded by the mayor, who claimed that the tourists went "everywhere". I guess Mr. Covington at the Haven wishes that busloads of tourists were coming to the Haven to have a cool, refreshing beverage and hear some good jazz-perhaps Big Jesse Yawn. And if they get out of the bus and walk into the club and go directly home, before it gets too late, they probably would feel safe too. Buz will betcha, 24-1, that tour buses rarely come to Northwood Plaza, or Loch Raven Plaza, or Erdman Shopping Center-some of the areas cited by citizens last night. 

The mayor did admit that strong  home ownership is crucial. And here were African-Americans, living the American dream, buying homes and paying taxes, and I didn't feel comfortable that they really were being listened to.

One gentleman pointed up and down the table and said that they participate in citizens on patrol, and that they call, and that they watch out for their neighborhood 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, that they do everything but lock people up. But: "we're being let down". They said there was little police presence in the Loch Raven community, and that THEY HAD NO CONFIDENCE IN THE DISTRICT COMMANDER--despite the commissioner's vote of confidence for the Major. They have tried us the 311 line, but after 20 questions from the call clerk, the police then take forever to respond; the suspects have long disappeared. Sometimes the police never come ( a common complaint that Buz hears).

One man named Tony from the Belair Edison neighborhood said  he is frustrated because when his neighborhood calls for druggies plying their trade, the cops, if they come at all, simply drive by most of the time, sometimes merely glaring at the boys on the stoop. He wishes the supervisors would go on these calls and have the officers get out of their cars, confront and talk to these dealers, and order them to leave and not come back, demand ID, or SOMETHING. He said that he and his neighbors were told (by the police?) to put up no trespassing signs--which many of them have done. But the officers don't enforce them at all and don't question the thugs on the steps where they don't live. (Peter Moskos, in his book about the Eastern District, explains in detail why the police, eventually, stop doing anything about the drug thugs sitting on the stoops.) Buz doesn't think a lot of no trespassing signs or no sitting on step signs is going to help property values much. Poor Tony. He's a real big guy, but I guess since the Dawson and  other cases of "don't snitch" have occurred, I guess even he's not going to go out and say anything to them.

Her Honor did say that the district she lives in, Southwestern, is the worst in the city. Ya heard it right from the top!
She also said at one point that she would love, if she could, to just take the shopping center from the owners. Um, yeah, eminent domain: we could have a "mixed use development" with apartments, shops, offices, and condos. Boy have we heard that expression a few times in the last few years!

Oddly enough, there was no one from Morgan there. Your consultant wonders if their Police Chief or anyone from the school was invited, especially since the own the biggest property on the shopping center site--the old Hechinger's building. You would think that since the Plaza is across the street from the university that they would have a dog in this fight. Buz has learned the Morgan police rarely enter the shopping center and don't really even drive around their building. He read on one talk forum that Morgan tells its students not to go there (unable to confirm).

Buz also speculates that these perpetrators probably live just a few blocks north in the heavily rental area near campus, so he wonders if any outreach to the students with the pictures and the one guy's profile widely publicized with the students might gain some calls. The commissioner can lament all he wanted to last night about only two calls, but these were all "citizens" at the meeting. None of them were in the "game". The people who will know these guys are either in the "stop snitching" culture or they may be student neighbors, who aren't even necessarily aware of the crime.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Crime meeting tonite at Northeastern District!

Buz has learned that there will be a big crime meeting tonight at the Northeastern District Station House. A number of neighborhoods along the Loch Raven corridor have been invited. This is an additional meeting sparked by the recent murder of Ken Harris. Reportedly the mayor will be there, possibly, along with the Commissioner. There is no word on whether or not the Master Crime Downgrader will be in attendance.

I've learned that there has been a sharp increase in robberies lately in the city, and enough to possibly project a increase compared to last year. Info received is that the Northeastern District, along the Loch Raven/Alameda corridors, have been one of the main places of increase--particularly in the area of the Northwood Plaza Shopping Center. 

Other areas of the city hit hard recently are: Northern District, especially in Charles Village; and Central District, especially in the "downtown" area.

Many of these robberies are committed by juveniles, according to the police, and as most of us who have been around for a while know, the system is ill-equipped to  deal  with dangerous juveniles who rob, until multiple offenses are (maybe not even then), or they get popped for armed robbery (or worse) as adults. And if they get caught and "nothing" happens, they keep on doing it, because, hey, it's fun--and of course, ya get money and other stuff out of it.

By the way, the surveillance photos of the three robbers in Northwood clearly show a pretty good side profile of the guy holding a Halloween mask. Really, if anybody sees this who knows this guy, he is really got a readily identifiable profile, so you gotta know it's him. But nobody's saying anything.

The mayor said they're gonna crack down on the rotten, no good shopping centers who allow crime to run rampant in their areas. Hmmmmmmmm. Wonder what she means? Are they going to padlock Northwood Plaza?! And what about cracking down on the thugs? And what about cracking down on downgrading attempt robberies with shots fired to "vandalism"?--which of course, is not investigated.

Mary Pat's idea of another sector for Northeast is a good one, but it probably isn't going to happen: the city's broke. She'll have to settle for that big ole dark and locked RV (oops, police command post), parked in the desultory shopping center.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The brouhaha over crime statistics

Peter Hermann has an interesting post about a dispute over crime stats and information in the Homeland neighborhood, as well as some interesting comments from his readers.

Buz has often gone to the city police crime mapping site for a lot of useful information regarding crime in the city. He agrees with Peter that we wish they would give us a little more info, like time of day, some comment on method, victim info, suspect info, etc. But it ain't gonna happen.

There are more than 17,000 police departments in the U.S., but only about 100 of them have crime-mapping data available to the public. Why? Well, cost, for one thing: someone has to create the program, keep it running,and update it frequently if not daily. The dirty little secret is that most police departments have little to no money budgeted for that sort of thing (or anything); most police departments in the country are very small--I believe the median size is about 10 officers. The other dirty little secret is: why do it? Very few departments have any real incentive to reveal to citizens the true number and kinds of reports of crime occurring in their midst. That information becomes political fodder for enemies of current political administrations. The police chief who lasts more than three years in the job is doing well, no matter the size of the department. And a jump in crime overall or in a certain place or of a certain type causes all sorts of conniptions (is that a word?) which take deployment and control and direction of the department out of the hands of the chief. The hue and cry goes out!

Take the city's mapping info, for example. They only allow you a look at 2 weeks at a time for the most recent 90-day period. And nothing more recent than about 10-14 days ago. But if you're a computer whiz you can get a look at all 90 days in their database at once. John Galt just did it last week for the area around the Barclay school, showing the crime in and around the Charles Village/Waverly area for the summer. Yikes! There was hardly any white space on the screen!

Your consultant met recently with the fellow who runs a crime-mapping site for cities, which I looked at a number of times, and in fact, signed up for a crime alert of crimes happening within 3 miles of my house. He gets a feed from both the city police stats and the Sun's blotter reports. Between the two, it gives a better picture. Of course, these are only REPORTED crimes; in certain areas the real crime is much higher--because so many people are involved with drugs that they won't call the police, not to mention the why bother factor. As one judge told me at a wedding on Saturday, "you know, the city police are not very well thought of". I said, "your honor, I believe that's an understatement". And certain jurisdictions don't give him any information, except what he can get in press releases, e. g. Anne Arundel county. But at least for now, that site, combined with the city police site help give a good picture of reported crime in an area.