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Dubious claim of Inner Harbor crime decline

Police push statistics saying crime declined 525 percent; percentage substituted for raw number

By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

12:29 PM EDT, June 12, 2013

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Baltimore Police have been able to present some impressive - sometimes maybe even hard to believe for some - crime statistics in the past decade, but a figure put forward last night was beyond head-scratching.

In preparation of a walk through downtown to the Inner Harbor with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, police sent a reporter a data sheet showing that crime was down substantially in the downtown neighborhood and Seton Hill. 

Down so much, the data showed, that it had declined 525 percent.

Our crack team of mathematicians flipped over a napkin and determined that when a figure declines by 100 percent - its entire amount - well, there ain't anywhere else to go. 

A police spokesman said the data came from the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at the University of Baltimore, and came their way via the Downtown Partnership. 

The problem was that the BNIA data showed the actual drop, not a percentage. The downtown crime rate was 949 incidents per 1,000 residents in 2000, and declined to 424 incidents per 1,000 residents by 2010. That's a drop of 525 incidents per 1,000 people, or 55.2 percent.

Kirby Fowler, the president of the Downtown Partnership who pushed it under the nose of city officials, accidentally read the raw number a percentage, and he passed it on that way to top city officials and police, who didn't appear to notice this statistical wonder either.  

Now, to be fair, the accurate figure is quite a drop as well, and might be as hard for some to believe as the 500 percent drop. Believe it, Fowler said, attributing the decline to an increase in downtown residents, from 1,700 to 4,000 over the past decade, as well as development of vacant buildings and an increased security presence.

"All of those helped to create an environment where there is less crime," Fowler said. 

In fact, Fowler thinks the rate should be even lower and is pushing the BNIA to adjust its methodology for calculating the downtown crime rate. He argues that dividing the number of crimes per residents who live there misses all the people who come downtown to visit or work. 

"If you apply that, we think downtown will look even better," Fowler said. 

The mayor's walk to the Harbor last night brought extra officers and top officials from various agencies, in a show that crime downtown will "not be tolerated," as Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts told WJZ-TV. Recent years have seen occasional mayhem, often involving large groups of youth pushing downtown and getting into fights. 

Batts said all are welcome at the harbor, but they must behave. 

“We just will not tolerate dysfunctional behavior. We will not tolerate striking people, stealing things or taking things. Other than that, they have a right to come down and hang out and enjoy, just like everyone else does,” Batts said.

The tour, which included top brass from Baltimore police and representatives of area law enforcement agencies, began at the police CitiWatch headquarters on N. Howard Street, where Lt. Sam Hood demonstrated the department’s newest camera as well as video of cell phone thefts and an assault  -- all of which were captured on CitiWatch cameras and led to immediate arrests by police.

The tour then stopped at the Everyman Theatre as it wound south to the Inner Harbor, where Rawlings-Blake and Batts spoke to business owners, residents and members of the Inner Harbor Project, an after-school program run by youths focused on making the area safer and more inclusive for visitors and residents.

The tour marked the beginning of the summer season, when police typically see a spike in arrests and violence, and Batts and Rawlings-Blake wanted to let business owners know that they will be girding up with more patrols and monitoring over the next few weeks. They said the enforcement strategy will build on the city’s success lowering downtown crime over the past decade.

“I think it’s important that people see that I’m out here,” Rawlings-Blake said. “We want everyone to come down here and make it home safe.”

Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article