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Crime steals peace of mind of city residents, officials Schmoke making strides; perception of danger remains CAMPAIGN 1995


In an article in Thursday's editions, The Sun erroneously reported that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's re-election campaign hired Charles Dutton to do one-minute ads on local radio. Mr. Dutton, who starred in the television series "Roc," is donating his time.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

They met with Baltimore leaders to talk about a wide range of problems, from the scourge of rats to the blight of boarded-up rowhouses. But the topic always came back to crime.

"We got a curfew law that stinks," shouted Lynn Smooth, just as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke walked through the door to face 100 residents in Southeast Baltimore last month. "We got so much crime that the Police Department can't handle it."

Crime seems to be out of control. Pictures of bodies sprawled on city streets are vivid images in the news.

Thousands of people are robbed and assaulted; 13,000 cars are stolen; 15,000 homes are broken into; 40,000 thefts are reported. And that was last year. Baltimore homeowners are moving to the suburbs -- 51,000 have left in the past seven years.

For many, the city hardly seems secure.

"It is extremely difficult to measure whether a city is safe or not," said Officer Gary McLhinney, the president of the police union. "I think certain areas of the city are safer now than they were seven years ago. There are certain areas of the city that we've lost control of, and I don't know how we are going to get them back."

Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Mr. Schmoke is making strides. "If you want to know if he's done a good job, the answer is yes."

Mr. Robinson, who was Baltimore's police commissioner from 1984 to 1987 and has been in the criminal justice field since 1951, said the mayor led the way in negotiating a state takeover of the detention center, which will save the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It is not simply a problem that can be laid on the mayor or the police," Mr. Robinson said. "The police are but one factor in a cast of thousands needed to achieve crime reduction."

As the mayoral race between Mr. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke commands more attention in Baltimore, crime is very much on the minds of residents.

The answer to the safety question is grounded in perception and reality.

Mayor Schmoke kept former Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods at the helm despite criticism that the department was stuck in bureaucratic morass and that Mr. Woods could not ease citizens' fears.

When Mr. Woods retired in 1993, after serving four years, the mayor hired Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, an articulate police chief from California with innovative ideas who has altered the course of the department. But some experts worry that the administration set itself up for a fall.

"Mr. Frazier's success or lack of success is going to be a major factor in the mayoral campaign," said Hayes Larkins, a former criminal justice professor at Baltimore City Community College and teacher at the police academy.

"If Frazier is not perceived as solving the problem, it's going to be Schmoke's fault."

Perception or reality?

Since Mr. Schmoke took office in December 1987, major crime has soared 40 percent. Last year, one of every seven residents was a victim.

From 1980 to 1987, major crimes -- homicides, rapes, robberies, burglaries, assaults and thefts -- decreased, from 76,000 to 65,000.

4 By 1990, that number had risen to nearly 78,000.

Last year, the FBI put the figure for Baltimore at 92,784.

The reason, according to the mayor and police commissioner, can be summed up in two words: crack cocaine. The epidemic hit Baltimore about the time Mr. Schmoke became mayor. "It looks like a spike on the chart," he said.

It is responsible not just for the escalating homicide rate, but for all sorts of other crime, from robbery and burglary to petty theft and shoplifting, police say.

"If I leave my sunglasses in my car, and somebody breaks my $300 window to steal them, they sell them on the street for $5," Mr. Frazier said. "And you say why $5? Because you are halfway to a $10 'ready rock.' And that is the fact of addiction."

The mayor and police chief say the drug problem is just as much a health issue as a police issue.

Mr. Frazier tackled the problem with large-scale drug raids concentrating on violent dealers, followed by an influx of city workers to clean alleys, erase graffiti and bring social programs to the streets.

At a recent City Council hearing, Mr. Frazier criticized what he called a "flawed strategy" of his predecessor for making what he called indiscriminate arrests that put addicts in jail while violent dealers roamed the streets.

"As drugs increased more and more, the department's answer was to make more and more arrests," the commissioner said. "It didn't make the kind of difference the department hoped that it would make."

Mr. Schmoke's record on drugs is controversial. In 1988, he gained national attention by calling for a debate on drug decriminalization. He maintains that removing the profit from drug sales would reduce crime.

Hiring freeze

Three years later, as crime -- homicides in particular -- rose more rapidly Mayor Schmoke instituted a citywide hiring freeze, including the police department, because of state cuts in funding.

A police force that boasted 3,500 officers in the mid-1970s was down to 2,900 by early 1994. Today, the department has about 3,100 officers.

"I question the wisdom of having a hiring freeze in the middle of a crack epidemic," Officer McLhinney said. "Crack didn't come overnight. It was a trend that we observed across the country, and we knew it was coming to Baltimore. We stuck our heads in the sand and ignored it."

David McDowall, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who co-wrote a report analyzing the history of homicides in Baltimore, agreed that much of the crime stems from drugs. But solutions do not seem imminent, he said.

"For the most part, those large increases in crime that Baltimore has experienced are pretty much out of the control of the police and elected officials," Mr. McDowall said. "If people want to buy and sell drugs, there is little that can be done to stop it."

Homicides and shootings dropped in Mr. Frazier's first year, which the commissioner attributes to his drug raids and terrible weather in the first three months of 1994. Homicides declined in major cities all over the country last year.

Crack cocaine blamed

Experts caution that homicide -- though the most visible and politically sensitive of all crimes -- is a poor way to measure whether a city is safe.

Most slayings in Baltimore are attributed to the drug trade and are committed by people who know one another. Homicides make up 0.003 percent of the major crime committed in 'f Baltimore.

But crack cocaine brought homicide to the streets. Dealers fighting over turf -- or stealing from other dealers -- battle it out with semiautomatic handguns by spraying corners with bullets, felling bystanders as well as targets.

The result is bodies in public places.

"Television has helped to form this perception of what crime is like," said Mr. Larkins, who retired last year. "On the 6 o'clock news, you are seeing this body lying on the sidewalk. Years ago, people would not have been exposed to that."

Many residents interviewed said they are scared. At the community meeting with Mr.Schmoke, homeowner after homeowner said he or she had been victimized.

H. Jean Moler, who has lived in the 600 block of N. Linwood Ave. for 29 years, said she just spent $3,000 on an alarm, high fences and metal window bars. Her street, she said, has had many break-ins.

"I'm a prisoner in my own home," she told Mr. Schmoke.

But in other parts of the city, residents hail the mayor and police chief. Those who live in East Baltimore-Midway, the site of Mr. Frazier's first raid on Greenmount Avenue, say they can now walk up and down the street without being offered cocaine.

City Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, chairman of the public safety committee -- who in early 1993 called for former Commissioner Woods to resign if the homicide rate did not go down -- criticized Mr. Frazier recently, calling many of the drug raids "symbolic efforts" that have failed to slow the crime rate.

Mr. Frazier strongly disagreed. Before the raids, he said 200 drug dealers plied their trade on Greenmount between 21st and 25th streets. Now, the department says 44 of the 46 dealers indicted on drug charges remain behind bars.

246 convicted

Of the 250 people arrested by the Violent Crimes Task Force in the four biggest raids, Mr. Frazier said 246 were convicted, two died, one was acquitted and one case was thrown out of court.

"I think the overall safety of the city is part statistical and part how you feel about things and where you work and where you live," Mr. Frazier said. "I think the sense of safety has improved. A lady just said to me, 'I can walk down Greenmount Avenue now and I couldn't do that a year ago.'

"We want to take the city back neighborhood by neighborhood if we can, block by block if we can, house by house if we have to," the commissioner said.

At a block party to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Greenmount raids, Mayor Schmoke implored people to help police.

"You can come in, and you can do a sweep, but if you don't have constant vigilance, then of course the dealers will just come back in here and feel real comfortable," he said. "What we have seen over the past year is intolerance. The people have simply said, 'Get out of here.' "

Despite those admonitions, Mr. Schmoke has been criticized for not speaking out forcefully enough about crime, especially homicide.

Officer McLhinney, the union head, says the mayor is in a bind because his ideas about decriminalization "go against the conventional wisdom of dealing with the drug problem . . . if the mayor is waiting for that to happen, he better pack a pretty big lunch."

Mr. Schmoke can be forceful at times. When two city police officers were shot in the head -- one fatally -- on successive days in 1992, he called for the death penalty to be used and praised police for shooting the suspect: "The [backup] officer stood back and killed the guy, and that was right."

When his father and stepmother were robbed this year, the mayor said that a Baltimore delegate's proposal to cane delinquent teen-agers should not be dismissed as frivolous.

"I don't have any sympathy for the person who did that," he said at the time. "I don't believe he's a political prisoner. I don't believe he's a victim of his environment. He chose to do what he did."

After the May shooting death of a basketball player outside a city recreation center, he sent a news released marked "urgent" that deplored what he called "senseless and cowardly acts of violence."

And his campaign has spent $100,000 to hire Charles Dutton for one-minute ads on local radio stations. Mr. Dutton killed a man during a fight in 1968, went to prison, was rehabilitated and became an actor who starred in the television series "Roc," based in Baltimore. He used the show as a pulpit to denounce violence, particularly black-on-black crime.

To some, crime has gotten so bad in the city that they are willing to give their lives to help bring peace to the streets. Former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, well-nown for keeping vigils on drug corners to force the dealers out, complained recently that his work accomplished little.

"All we did was move people to another location," he said, adding that he still is willing to take the stand. "I'm an old man. Nothing can hurt me now. You can shoot me, but what good is that? I'm willing to sacrifice as much as I can because I see what's happening in this city."


;/ Crime during Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's tenure

... ... ... ... ... 1987 ... ... 1990 ... ... 1994

Homicide .. ... ... 226 .. .. .. 305 .. .. .. 321

Rape ... .. ... ... 595 .. .. .. 687 .. .. .. 637

Robbery ... ... ... 7,466 ... .. 9,477 ... .. 11,275

Assault ... ... ... 6,008 ... .. 7,473 ... .. 8,718

Burglary .. ... ... 13,475 .. .. 14,753 .. .. 15,897

Larceny ... ... ... 30,319 .. .. 35,383 .. .. 42,404

Auto theft .. .. .. 7,464 ... .. 9,911 ... .. 13,533

TOTAL: ... .. .. .. 65,553 .. .. 77,989 .. .. 92,783

In 1993, a record 353 homicides were committed.

Mayor Schmoke took office in December 1987.

Source: Baltimore Police Department.

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