Sunday, January 11, 2009

Updated/More Ups and Downs of crime, policing, and security in Baltimore for 2008

Baltimore's crime/security situation in 2008 was filled with a lot of downs, bu only a couple of ups. In reflecting back on the year just passed, Buz has come up with some significant things of note, which I invite readers to agree or disagree with.

  • The website came into its own as a viable web alternative to the city's crime mapping site. Both have their limitations, because, for some reason, the gendarmes don't like to give out crime info. Some ideas on why can be found on an earlier blog posting.
  • Though the city ended with a modest drop in murders, true a whole busload of less people killed, it is too early to tell if the drop is sustainable or means very much.  Baltimore still remains a very high crime city, and the stats other than murders and nonfatal shootings were pretty much similar to a year ago.
  • Newcomers to Baltimore are getting much less likely to want to live in even the hip areas of the city as in past years. Many young professionals are not even considering the city, despite my best efforts. They would rather sit in their car in traffic, than have to deal with "street stuff".
  • The Northeastern District of the city showed a huge increase in robberies, and for a time led the city in robbery. The shocking Ken Harris murder, it aftermath, and the long quest for suspects only epitomized the downturn for this area of the city.
  • Pit bulls are now often seen as the "prestige" dog to have with thugs, wanna-be thugs, and plain ole young people. But it scared me though, when I was going to get something to eat walking down Harford Road, that an unleashed pit bull, accompanied by an ignorant teenager, was crossing my path, and kept turning around looking at me, as though we were something to eat. Um, leashes, please, folks.
  • Speaking of leashes, your consultant rode his bike last summer to Robert E. Lee Park, and was shocked to find dozens and dozens of lawbreakers having taken over the park. Gang members? No, dog lovers, who were allowing their animals to run freely "as god intended,"  one said. Forget the leash laws! Who cares if the park had to be shut down for more than a year because the poop level in the grass was so high that the health department deemed it unsafe for kids to play in the grass! And the city spent thousand and thousand of dollar repairing the turf. No doggie bags were seen by your scared bike-rider. It's really interesting in actually seeing how some people want to pick and choose what laws they believe should be followed, and yet are critical of other kinds of people who violate different kinds of laws.
  • The amount of prostitution is really very noticeable in several parts of the city, more so than it had been in the past, in your consultant's most humble opinion: though the Baltimore John Watch crew has claimed they're "winning" the battle against prostitution in Pigtown, we wonder. Perhaps it has just moved up to Wilkens Avenue, which is technically not in Pigtown. Buzz recently came home from a trip to Charlottesville using Route 1, and it took him 4 minutes to see his first prostitute after entering the city. Before turning north on Fulton to head home, he saw 3 more. And Harford Road in Hamilton/Parkville border areas is starting to see an uptick, particularly between Northern Parkway and the city line; but recently on a Saturday they were going at it in a car on a Non-profit's lot in Hamilton til interrupted. The guy even argued: why do i have  to leave? Go ahead, call the cops! And of course, Falls Road in Hampden always draws stares from the gals if you're a single guy driving down the street.
  • Cell phones and other mobile devices have so proliferated that they have now, in Buz's humble opinion, come to rival drunken driving as a hazard on the road. When, in the past of my career's earliest days, I saw a person going very slowly or tailgating and then not, and weaving, i thought it was a drunk driver; but now (except for early morning drinking hours) it's just as likely to be a person yakking or yelling or dialling a cell phone. Betcha: 2-1, the gal who killed the Howard County officer who stepped out to wave her car down was looking at her phone or texting instead of driving. Hope her call was important.
  • The biggest "UP" of the year was the drop in killings. At one point, during a community meeting in, I believe, October, the Northern district commander averred that the department may have less than 200 murders in 'o8. The end of homicide as we've known it! then came November:yuck. A wave of violence started  in November, continued into December, and now in January of the new year, we've had just about one or so a day, though commish & co. are hoping it's just a "spike". Who knows!?
  • Baltimore crime blog has gotten its millionth look; it is the best source of a quick summary of crime news from a variety o;f sources, for those of us in the field who wish to keep up on such things--with a few snarky comments thrown in their from time to time by the author and the readers. Keep up the good work, MJB!
  • Citizens in the Old Homeland and Bellona Avenue areas have started a yahoo news group so that they can communicate with each other about crime. One of the leaders was a lady who organized a meeting at the Govans library after Homeland refused crime stats to some non-members. Buz is interested in watching this group and its comments, and truly believes that doing something/anything is better than nothing. It is a small, very, very neighborly, neighborhood group. Most citizens-on-patrol groups like this tend to be very hard to start up and extremely hard to  keep going. Best of luck. They call their group: Citizens Teaming Against Crime.
  • One of the main watershed events in crime of the year was the death of Zach Sower and efforts of his widow, Anna, to bring attention and focus to this issue of violent crime in the city, as well as her evolution from being a victim to, sadly, somehow, as City Paper puts it, the Antihero. I believe that this robbery, beating, and death struck a huge blow to the city's revitalization efforts among the young professionals who have tried to make their homes here, particularly in the Canton/Patterson Park areas. And the folks who work at Hopkins. You know, we begin to realize more and more, if Hopkins suddenly vanished, the city would virtually collapse. Your consultant, who also assist with relocation to Baltimore as one of his gigs, has seen a tremendous drop-off of young professionals who know longer want the word urban associated with that title. They'll prefer to look in Anne Arundel, Columbia, or north of the City, whereas in the past they only wanted to look for rentals in Baltimore's Fells Point, Canton, and Federal Hill.
  • Anna's quest to strike at criminality ran into a certain, I dunno, ambivalence, policy all over the place, mistrust, and misplaced agendas. To the point that she has given up. Criminal activity north and east of Patterson Park has moved south, and the areas south of Baltimore Street have become less desirable. 
  • The State's Attorney's spokeswoman "Misquoting" to a reporter were a watershed of insensitivity and in-your-face we don't care attitude perceived by many crime victims. We know the prosecutors are not like that; perhaps Ms. Burns could have a story: the Anti-Spokesperson. But, you know, Buz has believed, for a long time, that a community gets the kind of law and order (I wish I could think of a better different term) it believes and and wants.
  • Baltimore john watch blog was interesting at times, if not somewhat repetitive and dispiriting. It is good that somebody is doing something to hold the "sketchy" parts of the city together--at some risks to themselves. So, here's hats off to Sebastian and others like him in the city, who are trying to stem the tide of crime, disorder, and lawlessness, and to keep our city holding on. Like most crime, street walking ladies are both a symptom and a cause of community breakdown.
  • Peter Hermann, of the Baltimore Sun, became an informative paid blogger/reporter, who has given us a lot of insight into various aspects of crime in Baltimore. Welcome back, Peter. (Peter can't be too terribly snarky in his comments, because he still has to operate under the umbrella of the Sun and its standards.)
  • Exhibit A came and went as a tabloid edition of the Daily Record legal newspaper. I say "went", but it's still out here on the web, just not in print anymore.
  • Some parts of Baltimore County are now worse than parts of Baltimore City. In a couple of eastern Baltimore County communities, things are so bad that the pizza joints won't deliver to that complex.
  • The dump-out-of-the-car homicide victims in Federal Hill have not had their cases cleared by Baltimore's famed Homicide unit. And we don't believe the one in Canton recently has been "put down", either. (The first two sound like "business"; the gal in Canton sounds domestic).
  • The bunch of rapes in Mount Vernon have not been solved either. It is certainly a victory for perception of Balitmore that many, many young people enjoy living downtown, and in the Mt. Vernon area. However, young people often fail to look at the safety of their rental area in general, and their apartment in particular. Risk from crime needs to be considered along with location, cost, and quality of housing.
  • Fred Bealefeld has really come to the top of his game as Police Commissioner. I was really impressed when he said he wanted his staff (Team Bealefeld) to proceed in a "thoughtful" manner when investigating the murder of ex-City Councilman Ken Harris. At one community meeting about that, he was even willing to assert that somebody's not during their job, when he said he saw no police after sitting in Northwood for an hour and a half. (However, police everywhere are scarce, because patrol is very short in large, busy districts: if Northwood's officer was on a call, and nobody there called, you probably aren't gonna get many police come by).
  • And the saddest of them all: an elderly woman living alone in Remington (real estate agents probably call her block "Wyman Park) was killed when her home alarm sounded in the early morning hours. And neighbors heard her scream. And everybody cowered in their homes and called 911. And she screamed, and nobody came,  and she screamed, the alarm going off. No cops. No neighbors. NO help. Everybody scared. And nobody saw nothing. Cops finally arrived. She's dead. As of the end of 2008, nobody arrested. Right across the street, practically, from the old Public Health Wyman building where Hopkins has offices for the Institute of Policy Studies. Many calls came into the city's 911 call center, but people were asleep at the switch (maybe literally), one Police Communications Assistant disciplined. And the neighbors called the police over and over. Betcha (23-1), in my neighborhood, my neighbors would come running with baseball bats, and if he got away, they would at least have seen him. One time some kids, for "fun"jumped out of a car and loudly banged on my door, and quickly drove away. Two neighborhood women, with kids in tow, and cellphones at the ready, came running up to our house to make sure your consultant was ok. We were, and we thanked them for their bold response.
  • Finally, for this posting, the guy that lives in the 3800 Block of Hickory Avenue apparently is not for "change". Since the election he's been flying the Confederate battle flag from his porch. I guess he's not going to the inauguration (we hope not, anyway). But apparently, he's got some unresolved issues.
Let's hope there's a more secure 2009 in Bmore.