The Eyes and Ears of Downtown


Starting today, Baltimore's downtown has more eyes and ears to assist uniformed police officers prevent crime: 35 public safety guides and 28 "clean sweep ambassadors" are on their beats in an area bounded by Centre Street on the north, Pratt Street on the south, the Fallsway on the east and Greene Street on the west. They will patrol seven days a week, from about noon to 8 p.m.

The Downtown Partnership, which is behind this stepped-up safety effort, feels Baltimore's business and tourism hub has a bad reputation it does not deserve. Although statistics suggest the area is not riddled with crime, many Baltimoreans and out-of-town visitors simply do not believe it. Through its visible, radio-equipped safety force, the partnership hopes to improve downtown's image.

Heading this force is Frank Russo, a 25-year city police veteran who previously commanded the Central District. His field deputy, Everett Scruggs, is a former U.S. Army captain, who participated in humanitarian relief efforts to the Kurds.

The public safety guides are easily recognizable with their black uniforms and purple hats (with a "Downtown Baltimore" logo); the street sweepers, for their part, wear red uniforms.

These public safety guides won't be armed. Yet they have had basic law-enforcement and first-aid training. To gain friends and influence people, they have attended Dale Carnegie workshops. They can converse about Baltimore history and tell out-of-towners how to reach city landmarks.

This "clean and safe" program is among the activities financed through a surtax on commercial properties in the new Downtown Management District. This tax district, modeled after successful programs in such cities as Philadelphia and Portland, Ore., is aimed at increasing the public's comfort level downtown while allowing downtown businesses to remain competitive.

We welcome this effort and wish it good luck. This highly visible campaign should make downtown events and institutions more enjoyable and popular. With spring ushering in thousands of new visitors to downtown Baltimore -- from baseball fans to museum goers -- it is good to have these new eyes and ears on the street.

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