THE SURPRISE is not that the violent crime rate in Baltimore has for the first time in 10 years dropped significantly. It's that it has taken this city longer than others to register such a change. Police department numbers for the first nine months of this year indicate a 9.6 percent decrease in violent crime in the city compared to the same period in 1995. All major crime is down 7 percent; aggravated assaults, down 12.6 percent; robberies and burglaries, both down 8 percent.
These preliminary figures have city officials optimistically anticipating next year's release of the FBI's uniform crime index. Those annual reports had shown all major crime dropping about 6 percent nationally between 1990 and 1995, but increasing by more than double that in Baltimore during the same period. While New York was being lauded for reducing major crime by wide proportions, Baltimoreans were left wondering what's wrong with us.
Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier believes it just took time for his policies to work: having officers concentrate on seizing guns rather than making busts for minor drug possession, and opening more Police Athletic League recreation centers to keep young people out of trouble. Credit should also be given to
modern techniques used here and in other cities, including "community policing," whose focus is to correct any urban problem that could make a neighborhood susceptible to crime.
To continue making progress, though, Baltimore must correct a situation that may be the main reason it has lagged behind the nation in crime reduction. It needs a more effective system to deal with the drug abuse that leads to other criminal activity. With an estimated 50,000 drug addicts, Baltimore has only 5,000 drug treatment slots for addicts. Compare that to Houston, which has 14,000 slots for its 30,000 addicts. There's been a lot of talk about the "decriminalization" and "medicalization" of drug abuse. It can't happen until there are adequate drug treatment opportunities for addicts.
The illegal drug trade may also be the reason the city's homicide rate is up 8 percent, even though there have been fewer shootings. One possibility is that the more powerful guns favored by drug dealers increase the likelihood of adversaries being fatally wounded. Helping addicts get off crack and heroin so the illegal drug trade can become less lucrative will bring the homicide and overall crime rates down.
Pub Date: 12/07/96