Crime-fighting in city hobbled by failure to communicate

The Baltimore Sun

Concerns raised recently about crime statistics in North Baltimore demonstrate serious deficits in one of the city's major crime-fighting tools: communication. It is easier to track your neighborhood pothole than local break-ins, suspicious persons or armed incidents. Crime stats are posted only after someone has been victimized - and usually weeks after the fact. Why is it so difficult to forewarn citizens who may be in the line of fire from area thugs? Or has Baltimore succumbed to the theory that everyone is already in danger and thugs are everywhere, so we'd all better keep our collective guard up?

For instance, the Homeland Association's recent e-mail to members (which, by the way, was circulated as area neighbors raised serious concerns about a rash of residential burglaries) was reported to contain an alert not about a crime that had occurred but about a suspicious person deemed a possible threat to the neighborhood. This warning, particularly if it originated from the police, should have been provided to the entire community, including Homeland's neighbors in Old Homeland, Belvedere Square and the Notre Dame area. Specifically, it could have been circulated to the Northern District's Community Council, which has in place an e-mail distribution list of crime-concerned citizens.

Do the property owners in Homeland not want assistance in catching criminals? Because your offender could very well be my neighbor - but without sharing the information, we'll never know.

When crimes are posted to CitiStat or CrimeSpot - such as those recently reported in the Belvedere Square and Senator Theatre area - they should be explained to citizens, not just given technical offense labels with a victim tally. The people in my area, for instance, would like to know just how dangerous it might be to walk and shop near Belvedere Square, because looking at the blotters, it appears that it might not be safe at all. What were the circumstances of those armed robberies? Is there something we can do to make ourselves less of a target?

Lastly, when a crime does occur, victims should be able to learn the status of their cases without having to conduct their own investigation. One of my neighbors, a burglary victim, has been waiting nearly two weeks for a return call from city detectives regarding arrest information. If the 311 system can track the placement of rat traps, why can't a city system track investigative progress for law-abiding taxpayers who have been victimized?

Communication is critical to outmaneuvering Baltimore's well-organized thugs, and prevention is the only area of crime-solving where citizens can directly contribute to their own safety.

Anyone who participates in privatizing or delaying warnings, muddling crime reports or keeping neighbors in the dark is only feeding another victim to the criminals who are taking over, one block at a time.

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