I knew going into this trip that any comparisons between Baltimore and London, and the United Kingdom as a whole, would have to be kept in proper context. They are very different places with very different challenges and very different ways of dealing with them.
But the lack of action on my ride-alongs has been quite a bit ridiculous, especially since the press and the officers I rode around with in Manchester and South London's Brixton insist that these are tough streets. Indeed, during roll call, when officers are apprised of recent events in the neighborhood, they outlined some gritty stuff taking place. However, after 14 hours on the streets, here's what I witnessed firsthand:
Manchester (dubbed "Gunchester"): A car full of teens who had just finished smoking marijuana; a kid whose furious bike riding raised suspicions but turned out to be nothing.
Brixton (referred to as London's drug and gun capital): A man suspected of drunken driving (his blood alcohol level was below the legal limit); a fruitless search by car for a man with a vegetable knife; a check on a home believed to be burglarized (it was not).
Of course, 14 hours on the street is hardly enough time to get a full view of any area, just like the action-packed five hours experienced by Independent journalist Mark Hughes in West Baltimore wasn't indicative of every night in the city.
My challenge is determining just what constitutes a tough area here and putting that in the proper context. Crime, and particularly perception of crime, is all relative, but then again, many of the locals who have e-mailed me told me that most of the crime here was completely blown out of proportion. I personally haven't witnessed much to tell them otherwise.