"We're certainly doing our best to maximize the resources that are available and doing our best to create a safe environment downtown," Rawlings-Blake said.

On her walk, the mayor chatted with police officers, residents and visitors.

Wearing an Orioles sweat shirt, she popped into Brio, the new restaurant on Pratt Street across from the harbor and smiled at the packed house. "Such an asset," she said of the Italian eatery that filled a long-vacant storefront.

Diner Lisa Ambrose snapped a picture as her companion, Joe Doran, 61, said they live in Washington but come by boat to Baltimore virtually every summer weekend, docking at Harbor East and strolling over to the Inner Harbor.

Doran said he hadn't heard of the St. Patrick's Day disturbances but shrugged it off "like mosquitoes in the summer," noting a recent gathering of unruly teens in downtown Washington that caused a scare. He said he has never felt unsafe in Baltimore or encountered any problems.

After chatting with Doran, Rawlings-Blake said that "people who grow up in the suburbs tend to think of Baltimore like it's a different country. But people from outside the area, like the people there from D.C., they love it. … People from outside the region have a much different, and better, opinion than people who live in our own backyard."

The walk took the mayor by the intersection of Calvert and Redwood streets, where the most violent fights took place on St. Patrick's Day. It is also the location of the expansive and upscale nightclub Club Dubai, at the historic Mercantile Trust and Deposit Company building.

Come January, the building will become the home of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, drawing many people from the suburbs, the mayor said, and a decidedly more subdued crowd to a space that previous tenants have tried to transform into large-scale clubs that could handle live music and 1,500 patrons.

In 2010, when the club was the Velvet Rope, police demanded it be shut down after a fight inside led to what they described as a "near riot" outside that involved at least one man with a gun. Rawlings-Blake said the transformation from club to theater will tamp down the nightlife scene and help a Marriott-owned hotel across the street.

"We put a lot of pressure" to make the change, the mayor said. "We were not happy with the management." But, she jokingly added, "Those Shakespeare actors, they can party."

The mayor has been criticized not just for the violent St. Patrick's Day weekend but also for her silence on the subject. Before Friday, her aides and police officials had dismissed the reports as overblown by the media, and the mayor had said nothing.

Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, the former head of Baltimore's NAACP chapter, said he was "appalled" at the lack of response from city leaders. He also said the departure Aug. 1 of Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III complicates the situation and could jeopardize current strategies.

"We have a summer that is coming," Cheatham said. "We have rec centers that are closing. I'm not sure we have a police leadership that can handle what is coming. … We have got a problem. We're lucky we didn't have a major confrontation between the community and the police."

Cheatham said that "youths have a right to go places they want, but they can't conduct themselves as a mob. And that's what this was: a mob. Parents, aren't you asking your child where he's going? And when the child comes back, [asking] what happened?"

The talk about crime and safety comes as the city gears up for a series of high-profile events, some of which will draw national television exposure and tens of thousands of tourists.

Saturday's Preakness will have barely faded from memory before June's 2012 Star-Spangled Sailabration, commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, complete with tall ships and a Blue Angels flyover. Then come Fourth of July fireworks, which were marred by violence last year, followed by the Grand Prix through downtown streets on Labor Day weekend.

What city officials want to avoid are images that Denise Kostka brought home to New Jersey from her visit to Baltimore a few weeks ago. She said she looked out her downtown hotel window to see hundreds of teens massing on the streets, and then police surrounding a car.

It wasn't St. Patrick's Day, but she went home vowing never to return to a downtown hotel, likening the experience to watching an episode of the reality TV show "COPS." The incident she described barely registered for police, who said they encouraged the group to disperse.

Rawlings-Blake conceded a disconnect between what officers might view as "handled" and what bystanders might see as a frightening mob.

"I don't think it helps anybody for the Police Department to be hysterical," the mayor said. "They need to be strategic. They need to be responsive. They need to be agile. And I think that's what you saw. No one wants unruly teams of people, whether they're black, white, young, old. We want to have a harbor that continues to be an asset for residents and visitors alike."

At same time, she said, "I'm not going to excuse away that individual's feeling, like they were watching a reality TV show, because you don't want to see it, particularly in the downtown area, which has the fastest-growing residential population."

Rawlings-Blake said she wants police and others "making sure we're learning from every weekend, from every incident."

"Hopefully people will see what we're doing," she added. "I think the numbers speak for themselves. You can plan and plan, and then you'll have unexpected, unforeseen circumstances. When an unforeseen circumstance presented itself, I think our department went into action."

But, she said, when it comes to curtailing crime downtown, "We have to get it right."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts