Thursday, October 16, 2008

Another community meeting: Bellona, Old Homeland, part of Govans, Belvedere, Rosebank and part of Homeland

Retired American General to retired North Vietnamese General: "You know, you never beat us on the field of battle".
Retired North Vietnamese General replied: "That is very true, but it is also irrelevant".
circa, 1978

Police Commissioner and Mayor to Joe the Thug: "You know, we reduced the homicides, that is you guys killing and shooting each other, even non-fatally".
Joe the Thug to Mayor and Commish: "That is very true, but it is also irrelevant".
circa 2008

Buz attended another community meeting this past Tuesday--another in which the citizens were upset and disappointed, somewhat, with our beloved police department. I was interested to see how at both meetings the police department was very proud of its tremendous reduction of the numbers of homicides and, to a lesser degree, the number of non-fatal shootings. And how, yet, one came away from the meetings with the feelings that the citizens had a unspoken (and sometimes spoken) reaction: "like, what's that all got to be with me and the crime problems we face"?

Your consultant thinks it's wonderful that the homicides are down, that the police and other criminal justice authorities are intervening in a "private civil war" [Judge John Prevas] going on in about 4 square miles of the city. In the meanwhile average "citizens" and "taxpayers" (in the Wire's lingo), are very concerned about the large number of robberies, burglaries, and other crimes in their neighborhoods--crimes which the department admits are basically unchanged from last year. Buz has always believed that robberies are the true measure of a community's safety--not murders. Robberies usually occur in a public place, between strangers, and involve force or the threat of using force. Murders, in this city (and most), involve either a domestic tragedy or business operations among people in "the game". (as Omar put it).
Both at this meeting and at Northwood's, and at a meeting of local security officials,  police officials expressed grievous concern about the worrisome numbers of assault and robberies occurring in many neighborhoods, including Northeast Baltimore, especially around the Alameda/Loch Raven corridors, Charles Village, and downtown.

Huge numbers of officers are assigned to arrest the big, baddest guys in Eastern, Western, and Northwestern districts, but the nasty up-and-coming young guns and street thugs are able to exact a weary toll on our other neighborhoods. The policy priority clearly is to keep the lid on the murders. Good! But we wish the department could be a bit more balanced about it, that the focus should be, by the press, policymakers, and all the criminal justice players on a safe city overall. The focus on murders numbers driving the system may win the numbers came, but we hope not at the expense of losing the war.


IT WAS held in the meeting room of the Govans library on Tuesday, October 14th at 6:30pm, and it was packed! Standing room only, about 85-95 people, despite not being very well advertised. No mayor or commissioner or state delegates: only one councilman, Bill Henry along with the Northern District commander and a couple of his people. It was sparked by recent crimes along the Bellona Avenue corridor, between York Road and Homeland, and included folks from Old Homeland, Rosebank, Belvedere, and some from Homeland proper.

Poor District Commander Ross Buzzoro had to face a mostly polite, but assertive and concerned and upset crowd of citizens. He seemed rather nervous at times, emphasizing the drop in murders for the district (19-11), and the fair number of serious arrests his people had made. He never really answered, because he didn't really have an answer, as to how the department could notify the community about crimes in the area of their concern. Although the city's crime mapping software has a lot of information, it is not terribly recent: with some exceptions, two weeks old, and does not tell time of offense, method of the offense, point of entry if there was a burglary, suspect information or victim demographics/activity.

The man sitting next to Buz described the robbery of his pregnant wife in their driveway, on a sunny Tuesday morning about 9am, witnessed by a 4-year-old, during which the wife got pushed in the face. Incredibly, this was not included in a year-long list of crimes posted for review in the rear of the room. And, again incredibly, the gentleman said that there had been NO followup by detectives on this incident, and no return of his several calls to detectives.
{Buz hopes this crime did not vanish into the realm of not counting, like the January holdup attempt in Northwood where a bullet fired into a gas station window turned out to be from the same gun used to kill Ken Harris. That crime was "downgraded" to destruction of property and thus not considered worthy of followup by the detectives--and doesn't thus count as a robbery either}.

Another fine citizen announced to the meeting that his house was burglarized on September 4th. Police found no good evidence after a cursory search of his house, and he declared a huge footprint outside the point of entry was not noticed by the crime lab. (could it have been the print of one of the officers there?). But what really ticked him off was that the crime lab took a number of hours to get there, and he couldn't go to sleep til three a.m. And most of that time 5 police officers stood around in his yard laughing, joking, and swapping stories of their girlfriends, and how they buy throwaway cell phones for.................? He also said he made 8 calls to the number he was given to find out about his case from detectives; none were returned by the detectives. He received NO followup on his case at all.

In fairness to the Major (who is a good street cop), none of the detectives who work in his building following up on street robberies or burglaries report to him, but to their bosses downtown--who might possibly revise the crime category by using the standards a defense attorney might use.

Oddly, the Major said several times without prompting, that he knows some of them might be skeptical of police reporting accuracy, but assured them auditing is taking place.

I'm concerned about repeated reports of quality of service, followup, and lack of responsiveness on the part of Baltimore's finest lately, after attending and reading about it at several community meetings. Nobody expects police to stop all crime or be everywhere at all times, but professionalism is hoped for at all times--and including followup and returning phone calls.

Buz thinks that robberies should be the police policy priority, along with making citizens feel that police are taking crimes against law-abiding people seriously, and following up professionally, along with a significant uniformed police presence. I wish the papers and TV would stop counting and harping on the homicide numbers.

Though one person lauded the police, which she said she sees 'all the time', and praised them finding her open door, she was in the minority; in both of these meetings. She even joked that she sees so many cops, that they are lowering property values.

A lot of talk at the meeting concerned email list serves, and crime information on them being traded back and forth among neighbors concerning suspicious people, etc. But it is not clear that the kind of information neighbors are trading would be helpful to the police, unless they were also on the email lists. I doubt the police are "lurking" on any of these lists, and even if they were, there is no clear way for the ones reading the emails to give viable info the officers can use to those that can use it in real time.

All told, the citizens seemed to be not terribly happy leaving the meeting, but not many citizens at meetings like this are.