The perception of crime in Baltimore is much worse than the reality. But what's real is bad enough. Last year, 13,000 cars were stolen, 15,000 homes were broken into and 40,000 thefts were reported in the city. There were 324 murders. The next mayor can't do a thing about the perception until the reality is improved. Important steps have been taken to do that, but are they enough?
Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier is putting more officers on the street: 120 have been added since he arrived (total: 3,100), 15 more are budgeted, and 325 are being moved from desk jobs to street patrol as civilians assume clerical duties. The phased opening of the state's high-tech central booking and intake facility is supposed to free up many officers for other police work.
Attrition is a constant problem. In suburban counties, the salaries are much higher and officers don't have to work as hard. The department also has experienced low morale, a result of personnel changes since Mr. Frazier took over in 1994. He champions "community policing," but that requires enough officers not only to help solve neighborhood problems indirectly related to crime, but also to perform routine police work and answer 911 calls.
Key to reducing crime is finding ways to lower drug activity in Baltimore. Police arrested 20,000 people on illegal drug charges last year. Drugs are believed to be involved in 75 percent of city murders and 85 percent of all felonies. Junkies must finance their habits. Yet with an estimated 40,000 heroin addicts and another 10,000 hooked on cocaine, Baltimore only has 5,300 available drug treatment slots. A Greater Baltimore Committee study concludes that not only does the city need more drug abuse treatment programs, but it needs to revamp existing programs to successfully keep people from returning to their addiction.
The GBC report, "Meeting the Crime Challenge in Baltimore," can be an important tool in energizing the business community to help fight crime, especially juvenile delinquency. One-fourth of all murders in Baltimore are committed by juveniles. The number of children referred to the Department of Youth Services has increased 73 percent in just three years. The next mayor must push for construction of a Juvenile Justice Center, where criminal procedures involving children can be centralized. Good corporate citizens can help prevent juvenile crime by becoming bigger benefactors of public schools and providing more jobs for young people.
Baltimore is a good place to live, but life in the city becomes increasingly traumatic as fear of crime escalates. It doesn't have be that way, though. Many of the solutions are already known. What is needed now is the leadership to find the means to put those solutions to work. Voters must decide who can best provide that leadership.