City launches campaign to combat drugs, crime

Flanked by federal, state and city officials, as well as civic and religious leaders, Mayor Martin O'Malley officially launched a $2 million media campaign yesterday to urge people to fight harder against drugs and crime, saying it was a "call to action."

"We cannot give up on one of our neighbors," O'Malley said. "We have to try harder. ... The time has come to turn the corner."

The campaign - dubbed "Baltimore Believe" - begins Monday with a four-minute movie that will be played on the city's television stations. The advertisement, a spot that shows people using heroin and crack cocaine and has a young boy talking about problems associated with Baltimore's deeply rooted drug culture, will air for about two weeks in condensed versions.

In the next 11 weeks, four other shorter spots will air, offering residents a central phone number, which has not been released, to call to volunteer to help children, seek drug treatment or join the police force.

The campaign, being funded by the Baltimore Police Foundation, also will have print advertisements, including a "Declaration of Independence from Drugs," in The Sun on April 14.

O'Malley and other city officials said the campaign is an unusual way to try to galvanize the public into defeating two of the city's biggest problems - drugs and crime. It is unclear how successful an advertising campaign will be at dislodging a drug culture that permeates city life - 60,000 city residents, about one in 10, are addicted to illegal drugs.

And though police statistics show violent crime has dropped about 21 percent in the past two years, Baltimore is still one of America's most crime-ridden cities.

O'Malley was joined by dozens of officials and civic leaders at yesterday's news conference at Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore. All said that it was time for residents across the state to come together to fight drug abuse and crime.

Most politicians had quietly slipped out of the church by the time Israel Cason, the conference's last speaker, stood on the podium and was greeted by the morning's loudest applause.

Cason, director of a local drug treatment group, I Can't, We Can, said there was hope for those battling drug addiction.

"We do believe that people do recover," Cason said.

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