For community leaders from Guilford to Oliver, the concern was the same: What can ordinary citizens do to battle crime?
With 10 murders in the past two weeks in Baltimore -- including the shocking killing of a nun in her convent -- the question took on new urgency yesterday at two anti-crime meetings.
But the answer a small band of community leaders heard yesterday was remarkably plain, if effective. The common thread: Law-abiding people must organize, shed their fear and make it known that they are willing to fight to preserve the quality of life in their neighborhoods.
When there was a rash of car thefts and prostitution along the quiet lanes of Guilford last year, residents got together and hired off-duty police officers to patrol their streets. Since then, the officers have been replaced by private security guards, but the result is the same: Crime has been virtually stamped out.
"The point is that neighbors got together," says Stuart Brooks, a Guilford resident who spoke at a meeting conducted by 2nd District council members at Harford Heights Elementary School.
In Bolton Hill, residents patrol the neighborhood on foot and in cars. When those efforts failed to stop a range of crimes -- break-ins, pursesnatchings, car thefts -- the community also hired a security firm. The results, community representatives said yesterday, have been good.
"Everyone feels there is a reduction in crime," said Brooks Bosley, of the Mount Royal Improvement Association. "There also is the cohesiveness that comes with working together as a community."
He said there are now plans for people to jog, aerobic walk and even use in-line skates to patrol the neighborhood to help deter crime.
Not every community has the money to hire private security guards, or an interest in in-line skating. But neighborhoods can be effective at fighting crime simply by working together, participants in the two meetings said.
They cited several small victories. Two East Baltimore churches, Zion Baptist and Israel Baptist, have members who gather on street corners regularly to sing hymns and pray. Drug dealers who normally rule those corners drift away when church members come outside.
Also in East Baltimore, Avon Bellamy launched a group called People United to Live in a Safe Environment. He describes the organization as an "evangelical anti-crime patrol" group. The idea is to combine a traditional anti-crime patrol with the work of promoting a sense of community and setting proper examples of manhood for the hoodlums terrorizing many neighborhoods, he said.
"We have to do something to affect the lives of these individuals," Mr. Bellamy said.
In the Patterson Park community, neighbors banded together to fight open-air drug dealing and prostitution by meeting to walk their dogs. They called the effort "pooches on patrol," and it has reduced the drug dealing and prostitution, community leaders said.
All of those efforts were applauded by police officials, who said they meld well with the department's new community policing strategy, which is aimed at encouraging people to be active in ensuring the safety of their neighborhoods.
"Simply put, community policing for me is an old style of policing, using modern technology," said Maj. Alvin A. Winkler, commander of the Eastern District.
For the concept to work, he said communities must be "an equal partner in solving problems."
At a forum conducted by the Greater Homewood Community Corp. on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke touted his plan to increase the city's "piggyback" income tax rate from 50 percent to 52 percent and use the money to put more police officers on the streets. The money would allow the Police Department to fill 167 vacancies, the mayor said.
While the idea of more police officers seemed welcomed by everyone in the small audience, State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms warned that more money must be made available for prosecutors and courts if the criminal justice system is to be effective.
Mr. Simms came under fire in a recent grand jury report that criticized city police and prosecutors, saying they shied away from making cases against major drug suppliers and money launderers. But he said his office does what it has the resources to do.
"While people talk strongly about wanting to do things about crime, we haven't made the necessary investment," he said. "We need need to join together because the criminal justice system has been in a critical situation."