Rawlings-Blake walked through this same Belair-Edison shopping center in January 2010, weeks before assuming the mayor's office after Sheila Dixon's resignation. On a recent morning, a homicide detective stepped into the small shops, asking employees about the fatal shooting of Chong Wan Yim, who was killed in a robbery attempt as he delivered sodas.
Residents here say their lives are marked by fear and violence. Lingering outside a discount grocery store, they ask one another about gun shots that echoed on a recent evening. Young gang members often fire shots to intimidate rivals, they say.
Young, who says he served four years in prison for selling drugs and assaulting another man in a prison fight, said his record makes it nearly impossible for him to find steady employment.
"When I talk to employers, they never call back, and when I call, they say the position has been filled," he said. Young, a burly man with a gray beard, said he makes about $75 to $90 a day doing home improvement work under the table.
The city's murder rate is at its lowest point since 1989. Officials say the strategy of targeting violent offenders — the city's worst of the worst — has made the difference.
Dixon put that strategy in place in 2007 when she appointed Frederick H. Bealefeld III, a longtime city drug cop, police commissioner while violence spiked. The following year, killings plummeted to 234, and the murder rate has since held steady. Moreover, overall shootings and gun violence have declined sharply.
But the Police Department has also been beset by turmoil. Police mistakenly shot and killed a fellow officer in a melee outside a nightclub; more than 50 officers were implicated in a towing kickback scheme and a veteran officer was recently charged with selling heroin from the parking lot of a police station.
The neighborhoods most ravaged by crime, specifically West and East Baltimore, may now have fewer shootings and less gun violence, but the conditions that many believe lead to such crime remain mostly unchanged. Vacant homes and empty lots, trash, drug abuse and lack of family structure remain widespread.
Andrew Foster Connors, co-chair of the interfaith coalition Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, said city leaders must pull young people away from the temptations of drugs and violence.
"Think about the drug economy as a corporate recruiting program, and the benefits it offers to young people, and ask us if we are competing with those benefits," said Connors. "What kind of opportunities are we providing to young people to dream about their future?"
The BUILD coalition is lobbying mayoral candidates to support a platform that includes increased funding for recreation, youth jobs and school construction.
Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said that Baltimore cannot cut crime through policing alone.
"Law enforcement is a very important piece, but of course a number of things contribute to a city's level of violence — schools, the economy," he said. "Those are long-term kind of issues that we have to address to create an environment in which dealing drugs, getting into gangs isn't such an attractive alternative."
Landers, Pugh and Rolley all say that they would expand recreation and job opportunities for young people in an effort to head off crime. Conaway said that putting young people to work must be the "most urgent priority."
Pugh said she would create a high school track for students interested in becoming police officers or firefighters. And she said she would create year-round job opportunities for youth.
Rolley said he hopes to pull churches into the fight against crime, organizing mediation programs, education, recreation and social service programs.
"The only thing that outnumbers the liquor stores in the city are the churches," Rolley said.
He says he would pilot a program — modeled after a similar initiative in Boston — in two police districts with the highest levels of crime. The program would cost "a couple of million dollars" to start, with additional assistance coming from the churches, Rolley said.
Rolley added that he would double funding for after school programs and increase the number of students hired by the city's summer jobs program to 10,000. About 5,000 students are employed this summer, down from a high of 7,000 in 2009.
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