So tell me what the solution is. What would you propose to do about a situation like the one that occurred Saturday night at the Inner Harbor? I ask because the response to the teen mayhem is at high pitch, and people — readers of this column and some commentators in social media — seem to think Baltimore faces downtown tourist oblivion if something isn’t done.
While Baltimore police appear to have done a good job keeping a tense and frustrating situation from getting worse, did they have enough presence in the harbor area before the kids started to gather? Do we generally have enough police presence across the city, particularly in high-traffic places?
I don’t know anyone who would answer yes to that question, but what do you do about it? Despite recruitment efforts, we have a police shortage in Baltimore, and it’s going to take more time to bolster the ranks.
Some witnesses describe kids running through streets, jumping on and kicking cars, or walking slowly in large groups to keep cars from passing through. If that happens in an area where there aren’t enough police — where they are stretched doing other things — what then?
I invented a calculation earlier this year: POPSM, or Police Officers Per Square Mile. Based on the data available in January, I concluded that, citywide, New York had a stunning officer density of 120 per square mile; the District of Columbia was at 62 POPSM, Chicago at 54, and Boston at 45 while Baltimore was running along at about 31 POPSM.
Mayor Catherine Pugh on Wednesday defended her administration’s efforts to fill hundreds of vacant patrol positions within the city’s beleaguered police department, arguing the net loss of 36 officers in 2018 actually marked an improvement over past years.
Criminologists or demographers might have cringed at my rough calculation, but it explained, at least in part, why many people who live here, work here and own businesses do not feel as safe as they should. It explains why companies have their own security and why the Johns Hopkins institutions will soon have their own police force.
Other activities for teens? Sure I would support the full restoration of the Police Athletic League program if we had enough sworn officers, and I would suggest later weekend hours for some of the city’s recreation centers if there were funds for it.
Do you ban kids in large groups from coming to the harbor? Impose a 6 p.m. weekend curfew? How on Earth do you do enforce that? Downtown Baltimore is not a mall.
A woman who is expert in youth crime — why it happens, how it can be prevented — tells me that social media plays a huge role in some of the violence that occurs in Baltimore and other cities. Words exchanged in text messages and in online forums often — more than the public generally realizes, she says — provoke boys and young men to acts of violence, including homicide.
Social media is a powerful force, creating pressures that prompt kids to sometimes do bad or unwise things, like gather en masse at the Inner Harbor on a Saturday night.
What do you do about that? Confiscate cell phones?
Whenever incidents like this occur, I receive letters from readers asking, “Where are the parents?” I also get letters demanding to know why more Baltimore fathers are not involved with their kids, to set them straight, and some readers are perplexed that single women chose to have children on their own.
But, again, if you assume those are the root causes of the problem — the initial bad decision-making that leads to bad consequences for kids — what do you do about it?
“It’s a parenting question,” says Mayor Jack Young. “Are the parents talking to the young people, letting them know that downtown, the Inner Harbor, belongs to you, too, but you need to act with common sense and decency, and not go down to disrupt, fight and create mayhem?”
Who’s not with Jack on that? But, again, what do you do about it? Survey every household with a teenager? How about a social worker sit-down with the parent or parents of every kid the police had to arrest? Does at least that happen?
I have said this before: Baltimore needs counter-messaging. The city needs the local television and radio stations, as a public service, to support a smartly-produced advertising campaign to push kids (and adults) away from two things: Violence and trash. Kids need to hear from influential men and women, including sports and entertainment celebrities, and they need clear and concise messages against violence and against trashing streets: “Baltimore is your city, respect it. ... This is your school and your teacher, respect them. ... This is your life, make the most of it.” Something like that. Maybe Mayor Jack can convince local media to step up and do that.