Downtown mobs -- what police call routine others describe as scary

There is a disconnect sometimes between what police see as normal and routine and what others view as scary.

When Denise Kostka and her husband saw a mob forming outside her downtown hotel, she became frightened. She didn't see a lot of police, the young teens were massing at the corners, and all the images of Baltimore that people have -- The Wire, the murder count, the drugs, instantly filled her head.

For the police, it was just another group of kids they had to push out of downtown. They made no arrests, saw no crime, had no reason to make an announcement. There's not even a report -- it's just something that happens [read coverage of St. Patrick's Day disturbance here, along with photos, video and an interactive map].

But for the Kostkas, this was a formative event. They went home to New Jersey and it's all they talk about. They visited the Inner Harbor and the aquarium, and saw their niece who lives in Federal Hill. If they come back, they won't stay downtown. And they're telling all their friends about being scared in Baltimore.

Are they right? Did they unfairly judge the city by one experience? In the end, it really doesn't matter. Impressions matter. Crime stats do not.

Michael J. Andrew, a retired Baltimore police commander who I quoted in an update on the St. Patrick's Day mob scene, called me this morning irate. Not at the story, but mad because he felt he held back in his criticism.

He was angry at the cavalier attitude expressed by police who dismissed what happened Saturday, and on St. Patrick's Day. The Sun wrote a story Sunday, told through police dispatch tapes, that the mob scene downtown was far greater than had been described by police, who were outnumbered by 500 youths. Officers broke up more than a dozen fights, handled three stabbings and used a Taser to subdue one youth.

Andrew said one of the problems is that police aren't allowed to be the police. He didn't mean they should bang heads, but maybe more arrests, and go after the instigators with serious charges. "If I take my wife down to the harbor to eat dinner, I expect to be able to have a pleasant experience," he said.

The former commander, who has 38 years on the force, said police commissioner sent a message to his troops when he fired Officer Salvatore Rivieri after his tirade against a skate-boarding youth was caught on video. Rivieri pushed the youth who ignored his commands and disrespected the officer by calling him dude. Wrong? Yes, says Andrew, but not a fireable offense, and he contends it sent a message to the cops to back off.

Denise Kostak emailed me again last night, telling me more about what she saw, but also asking advice for a safe hotel location for her next visit:

It was our first time to Baltimore and luckily we experienced that situation from upstairs in our hotel looking out to the happenings.  We felt like we were watching an episode of COPs minus the cops.  That sure wasn't a good impression of Baltimore's Inner Harbor and safety for tourists.   I'm glad we were inside our hotel when this was going on - it was a bit frightening.  (my husband was a truck driver and was assaulted in 94 by 5 teens in an area in Orange, NJ while he was making a delivery - that was in the middle of the day.  He was beaten and luckily someone called the police and an ambulance and he was brought to the hospital with head injuries.  That sure brought back some bad memories for him.

I was wondering, if my husband and I come back to the area to visit our niece, would an area like where the Courtyard by Marriot is (1000 Aliceanna Street) be a little safer area to stay?

 If there is anything else you need feel free to contact us.

Thanks again for listening to our story.

 Denise & Andy Kostka




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