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March 19, 2010

Tale of Two Cities nominated for British Press Award

More shameless self-promotion: the series of articles that Mark and I wrote that appeared in "The Independent" have been nominated for a British Press Award, the highest honor in journalism in the UK. We're nominated specifically for the Cudlipp Award, with the awards ceremony taking place March 23. We don't expect our little project to win, but it's an honor to be recognized.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:31 AM |
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Feds announce smuggling bust linked to London

(Mark Hughes from the Independent passed along this press release from London police about a major counterfeit goods smuggling case as the US Attorney's Office here in Baltimore was issuing their own release. This is cross-posted from the Baltimore Crime Beat blog)

Federal authorities in Baltimore announced this morning the arrests of nine people in an alleged multi-million smuggling ring that authorities say imported through the Port of Baltimore counterfeit Coach, Nike, Gucci and Cartier merchandise.

Here is an edited version of a statement from the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office:

Baltimore, Maryland - A federal grand jury has indicted nine individuals, including two Malaysian citizens, four Chinese citizens and three naturalized citizens of the United States, on charges arising from a conspiracy to smuggle into the United States counterfeit shoes, handbags and wrist watches manufactured in Malaysia and China.

“Intellectual property crimes are among the Justice Department’s top white collar enforcement priorities,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “This case demonstrates the impact that we can make with coordinated law enforcement operations that involve our domestic and international partners.”

More details and information from London Police:

Continue reading "Feds announce smuggling bust linked to London" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:28 AM |
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January 12, 2010

Manchester police use "hot spot" technique

I just received this press release announcing an experiment in which a UK police department will adopt hot spot crime fighting techniques as part of a controlled experiment in Manchester. While it sounds intuitive, "hot spots" and the concept of "cops on dots" are a relatively recent development in policing, created in the mid-1990s in New York City, and it's been a big part of Baltimore's crime fighting strategy since around 2000. Here's the press release from the University of Cambridge:

US crime hotspots technique could revolutionise policing
Cambridge University field study by leading US academic could change face of modern policing

Police in one of the most crime-hit areas of the United Kingdom are to launch the first controlled experiment in history based on a successful technique pioneered in the US. The results could have implications for policing around the world.

Professor Lawrence Sherman, Wolfson Professor of Criminology at the University of Cambridge in England and the Albert M. Greenfield Professor of Human Relations in the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, pioneered the technique of policing crime hotspots in the the US in the late 1980s.

In 1987, he discovered that just 3% of the street addresses in Minneapolis produced more than half of all calls to police. In parts of the US, concentrating police on these streets has since successfully cut crime by two-thirds within the hotspots. What remains unknown from US studies is how much this strategy may encourage offenders to commit crimes at other locations.

The UK initiative, which is due to begin in the spring with results scheduled to be published early next year, is highlighted in a film released today [Tuesday 12th January] on the University of Cambridge’s website and YouTube. It will focus on the Greater Manchester area in the north of England, which has one of the highest crime rates in the country.

Researchers believe that by focusing resources on hundreds of small areas through Greater Manchester and focusing police officers on these “pressure points” with highest rates of violent crime, it may be possible to reduce crime more significantly than if they were to patrol a wider area.

Professor Sherman says it will be the first time that research has been conducted into whether this pressure point style of policing just serves to displace crime to other areas and could have implications for policing styles around the world.

“This will be the first controlled experiment in history which allows us to assess not only whether this patrol design will reduce crimes in those areas, but also whether it it just encourages offenders to go elsewhere,” he said.

“We believe that simply by having a police officer stationed in the middle of one of these pressure points can spoil the party for would-be offenders and stabilise the area. If the experiment produces the results we hope it will, we could end up revolutionising policing by putting officers not on neighbourhood beats, but focusing them heavily on these pressure points.”

Because street layouts and other factors are quite different in the US to the UK, it could be that the effects may not be the same as in the US. This will be the first experiment to answer whether the general effectiveness of the technique.

The experiment will divide 200 hotspots into two groups. The first will be policed normally but in the second, the police presence will be intensified with officers stationed in pressure points for many more minutes during high-crime periods. Researchers will then test the comparative effects over the course of about a year, measuring the average change in crime over time in one group with that of the other.

Professor Shermans says: “In theory, if you can prevent offenders from committing crime in these areas, it may be possible to stop them altogether. The question is whether that theory works, which is what we are aiming to find out.”

Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Peter Fahy said: “This experiment will allow us to test out the impact of concentrating on some very particular areas and see whether it has the same effect as in some American cities.”

The study is the first in a unprecedented series of experiments in which researchers from the Jerry Lee Centre for Experimental Criminology at Cambridge will collaborate with several forces over the next few years.

The film, which covers the new initiative in Manchester and features an interview with Professor Sherman, can be found at http://www.youtube.com/cambridgeuniversity.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 12:33 PM | | Comments (2)
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December 31, 2009

Every Step you take...

Well, it's been awhile. But today The Sun published another story from my reporting in London, this one focusing on the use of closed-circuit cameras. Baltimore has been doing some interesting things with CCTV in recent years, and I thought it would make sense to visit a watch center in one of the most-watched places in the world. But I didn't realize going into the interview just how closely officials in Baltimore and Westminster, a borough in central London, had worked together to implement our city's network. We ended up talking more about this thoughts about Baltimore, and in an interview this week, Gov. Martin O'Malley was candid about the challenges he faced in maximizing their effectiveness.

Here's a map of all the camera locations in the city, with the exception of transportation cameras, private systems, and some new cameras that went up at the Inner Harbor.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:18 AM |
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December 7, 2009

Latest "Two Cities" piece

Another one of my pieces from London ran today in the Baltimore Sun. While I've referenced on this blog the comparisons to the "Wire" and Baltimore being made by some in the UK, this is the first long-form article to explore why those references were occurring and the status of gun crime there.

Check it out here.

The Washington Post included a link to this story on their excellent "Crime Scene" blog, which includes frequent blog updates from the Post's team of crime reporters and editors.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 7:01 PM |
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November 27, 2009

Inside the hunt for three killers

Today, my first full-length piece from my travels in London appeared in The Sun. It's an inside-look at the Metropolitan Police Department's Trident squad, which deals exclusively with the issue of black-on-black gun crime in London. This is an issue that in recent years has grown from the city's Afro-Caribbean immigrant communities to include more of the city's poor locals, detectives told me. Trident investigates gun crimes, but a portion of their efforts are dedicated to outreach and public relations campaigns.

The story largely focuses on the massive resources thrown at a case that in many areas would, unfortunately, seem "typical": a man with a criminal record, shot while on a bike in an impoverished part of town. This was not an attempt to decry the effort put forth in Baltimore - the city's resources simply don't match up with its overwhelming gun crime problem, and there's actually much more investigative work going on in a typical Baltimore homicide than meets the eye. Instead, I wanted to showcase the approach being taken in London to what they see as an emerging problem that they are aggressively working to stamp out.

(You may note that the story touches on stringent rules on reporting on crime in the UK. To that effect, the London police had me sign an agreement giving them editorial control over this piece, fearful that I might print something that over here would seem standard but there would be perceived as jeopardizing the case. In the end, they only objected to my describing the victim as someone with a drug record, and we compromised by me taking it out of the first paragraph.)

Posted by Justin Fenton at 9:35 AM | | Comments (4)
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November 18, 2009

Case closed - for now

When Independent reporter Mark Hughes arrived in Baltimore, he stepped off the train at Penn Station and into a shooting scene in East Baltimore. Then, a few days later, he hit the streets with city cops and encountered a homicide scene. Joseph Taylor, 28, had been shot to death inside green Honda Accord in the 1300 block of W. Fayette St, one of two homicides and five shootings that night.

Today, we learned that police have made an arrest in Taylor's death. Here's how Det. Raymond Yost recounted the investigation:

The driver of the car was parked on Fayette Street and observed a small dark-colored car pull into the block. He recognized the driver of that car as Corey Darnell Parker, who he said had shot him previously. In that incident, he said Parker attempted to kill him over a "large amount of money." (Court records show Parker, who is also known as Corey Parks, was charged with attempted first-degree murder in May 2008. All charges were dropped by prosecutors in September 14, 2009. It is not clear if this is the same incident referred to by the witness).
"For this reason, the witness has been especially vigilant in looking out for the defendant," Yost wrote.
When the driver observed Parker drive up, he attempted to leave the area. At that time, a black male exited the vehicle and began shooting at the driver and his passenger. The driver ducked to avoid the shots, at which time his vehicle crashed into a parked car. The driver fled from the scene from the passenger door - presumably climbing over Taylor's body. The driver, who miraculously was unharmed, later came back and observed that his friend, Taylor, had been shot in the head.
The driver identified Parker through a photo array. Parker, of the 7200 block of Fairbrook Road in Gwynn Oak, has been charged with first-degree murder and was ordered held without bond. Now he heads to court.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 5:12 PM | | Comments (3)
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November 16, 2009

Your comments

The Independent last week ran blog comments and e-mails in a package to show the array of opinions we've been hearing since we launched this project. Check it out here to see if your comment was picked up.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 9:30 AM | | Comments (1)
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November 13, 2009

"Wire" conference in Leeds

"The Wire" was a cult hit in the UK - it aired every night at 11 p.m., meaning the series whizzed by in just a few months - but events like this show how much traction it gained: A "Wire" conference in Leeds, featuring two days of presentations by European and American professors on lessons centered around themes from the show.

There's an entire session on Omar:
Session 201- Omar: Ethics, Power and Perfomativity
201-a:"No shame in my game": Examining Omar's Challenge to Systems of Power, Aidan Condron (University of Sussex)
201-b: “A man gotta live what he knows, right?”: Omar and ‘Performativity, Kerstin Mueller
201-c: A Man Must Have a Code: The Masculine Ethics of Snitching and Not-snitching, Thomas Ugelvik (University of Oslo)
201-d: Omar Little: An Obituary, Juliet Brown & Nilam McGrath (University of Leeds)

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:35 AM | | Comments (3)
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What can we learn from each other?

Mark and I are brainstorming some things that we saw while abroad. Obviously, I didn't need to travel thousands of miles to know that Baltimore and London are very different cities with very different challenges. But based on your experiences, and the dispatches that Mark and I have posted on this blog, what do you think our cities can learn from each other?

Posted by Justin Fenton at 8:56 AM | | Comments (3)
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November 11, 2009

Mayoral oversight

In Baltimore, and pretty much every American city, the mayor wields incredible power when it comes to policing. Most new mayors want their own person at the top, and they have priorities and initiatives that they would like to see carried out. Things can get ugly: Almost every Baltimore police commissioner in recent years has not been able to leave on their own terms, sacked amid bad publicity, soaring crime, or friction with City Hall.

In London, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Department has always been appointed by the national government, and its oversight and budget were set by an independent authority. The Mayor of London, though the city's top public official, had basically no official say.

Not so anymore. New mayor Boris Johnson last year placed himself as the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority and has been issuing directives, a shakeup that made waves here - and which City Hall said is finally holding the Met accountable to the people. One of Johnson's first acts as the head of the authority was to chase out the then-police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, a move that was impossible as mayor but done through his position on the authority.

"From our point of view, the mayor is the overwhelming voice of the customer, and they've been asking for certain things for a long time, and we want the police to focus on those things," Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse told me.

He said the national government, referred to here as the Home Office, had been focused mainly on the Met's counterterrorism efforts, letting day-to-day street crime lag behind as a priority. While Johnson still has no formal powers as mayor to control the police department, as chair of the police authority he's tasked police with focusing on issues ranging from gangs and knives to crime mapping and dog fighting.

"Londoners respond to it - to knowing somebody cares and is responsible for crime," Malthouse said. "Our postbag on crime went from 30 or 40 letters to 400 a week, just because finally, there's somebody who's responsible and will take political responsibility for [police] performance."

From my perspective, not fully knowing the political controversy this move caused, I think its refreshing that Johnson wants to "take political responsibility" for crime, because he's not only afforded himself the opportunity to take credit when things go right but to be left holding the bag when things go wrong. Of course, such an active role can also become meddling, and disruptive. Either way, this is a turning point of sorts in the history of the Met, for better or for worse.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:12 AM | | Comments (1)
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Independent coverage

Mark Hughes, a crime correspondent from The Independent, blogged here occasionally as he visited sites throughout Baltimore. Now that he's been back in the UK for a few days, his pieces are starting to appear in the papers here. If you'd like to see how he took all that he saw and packaged it for the readers there, check out today's story.
This article is mainly about the community efforts he observed; the title is about Sonja Sohn's "ReWired for Change," but the article is actually quite more comprehensive. He covered a lot of ground.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:30 AM | | Comments (1)
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November 10, 2009

Reaching kids in London's troubled neighborhoods

Just off Coldharbour Lane in South London's Lambeth neighborhood, a group of men are standing around at the mouth of an alley, steps from an 10-foot high steel gate being manned by three people.

In other parts of this neighborhood, these images might be ominous. But above the gate are letters spelling out "Love." The walls are painted with images of peacocks and trees, an explosion of warm colors that assure the children streaming into the Kids Company support center that this is a safe haven. Inside, children are eating hot meals, sculpting clay figures and playing games together. Adults are reading to them, or showing them how to use a computer.

"For a lot of our kids, this their last resort," said Derrick "Anthony" Mitchell, the duty manager at Kids Company who said he once ran with a gang.

The center was started 11 years ago by Camila Batmanghelidjh, a psychotherapist who mortgaged her own home to start the organization and keep it going. An overwhelming percentage of the kids who visit have come on their own, hearing about the program through word of mouth. Many of them have trouble getting a meal at home, or may not even have a home, and have been exposed to or involved with gang violence.

Mitchell said the challenges are nothing new to London's impoverished neighborhoods. He sold drugs, and lost a family member to violence at age 19 when his sister bled to death after being stabbed in the leg. He says the problems are only recently emerging to the forefront.

But Zievrina Wilson, the center manager for Kids Company, said she's seen a shift in the recent years. On Nov. 5, she said she was riding on a city bus when a bullet crashed through the window, nearly missing her head. At the center, newspaper clippings of three teens who lost their lives to violence are posted in a dimly-lit alcove.

In recent years, headlines in the national papers have been dominated by stories about youth violence, including a rise in shootings and a spate of stabbings that claimed the lives of school-age children. Stories were picked up by the media about parents equipping their young children with body armor as a precaution. With a homicide rate of only 2 per 100,000 people, killings of teens still cause national outrage, though some worry that the flurry of news stories is making the public numb to the problem.

"They go to schools in failing areas, there's not any aspirations, and the teachers don't care," Wilson said. "No one fights anymore. Kids are shooting each other over post codes because they have nothing else to aspire to. It's a mask, so no one can hurt them again."

Wilson said Kids Company is about "empowering young people, by any means necessary." On one corner of the building, volunteer Ibrahim Mohammed, 23, is watching kids fiddle on computers. In the next room, a 9-year-old girl has made a whimsical half-human, half-animal creature out of clay. “Lots of people tell me I’m good,” the girl says of her art. And in the back, 17-year-old Kayann Lewis is singing an original song and strumming a guitar inside a fully functional music studio.

What appears to be a thriving after-school center is actually much more, said David Gustave, an educational motivator. Kids are screened at the outset, and are offered therapy and counseling. Some need guidance to find housing or work their way back into school, all of which the group can assist with.

“Young people carry a lot of stuff – they’re victims, really,” Gustave said. “Through loving and stable relationships, they can get gain empathy and trust. The kind of things we take for granted.”

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:32 PM | | Comments (1)
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London Mayor: We're not Baltimore

Baltimore really has become a punching bag here. London's mayor weighed in yesterday on months-old comments from a politician that parts of Britain were becoming like the Baltimore depicted in "The Wire." Not sure what sparked this response so long after the original comment, though it should be noted that pieces by Mark Hughes about his stay in Baltimore began running this week in the Independent.

"It is far, far more dangerous in Baltimore than it is in London, especially for gun crime," Johnson said. Of course, he's absolutely right - guns are scarce in the UK and the blight and poverty are not nearly as pervasive as in Baltimore. But it says something about politics here that such a comparison would even be made in the first place, and that officials feel compelled to dignify it with a response.

By the way, Mark and I did a round of radio appearances today, on six different stations, including the BBC's Today program, the most influential radio show in the country. Here is the link to that interview (scroll down to the very bottom).

Posted by Justin Fenton at 8:58 AM |
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November 9, 2009

Access to information, and police policy

Just hours before I arrived in the London neighborhood of Kentish Town on Thursday, a transgender prostitute named Destiny Lauren was found dead in a front yard a few streets away from where I was staying. But the news wouldn't spread until today, when police announced that an unidentified man had been jailed "in connection" with the crime and released on bail.

The police here typically wait until an arrest has been made, or until they're stuck and need the public's help, to publicize major crimes. One press officer told me that informing the public about the crime in their neighborhood would lead to irrational fear and that they should only know about crimes when police need to get the information out. I can't tell you how many times a crime falls through the cracks in Baltimore and we get flak from people accusing us of covering things up for police. People demand to know what is happening in their neighborhood, and the backlash is swift when officials fail to inform the community about a major incident.

As far as the process when someone is arrested, there are some interesting differences. First off, you can be arrested merely for suspicion of a crime and placed on "police bail", in which police can impose restrictions on the suspects while they work to investigate the crime. After a suspect is booked, their fingerprints are taken and an officer takes a swab for their DNA, which is logged into a database. This is different from the process in Maryland, where until recently DNA was only collected upon conviction and which currently occurs only when someone is charged with a violent crime. Those who are charged are placed in their own private cell, which has a door for privacy and a toilet, and they are drug tested. If they fail the drug test, they are hooked up with a drug counselor and can be required to attend drug counseling while they are out on bail. The only time the criminal justice system can impose such requirements in Maryland is upon a conviction, at least in my experience.

Off to do a radio interview. Spent today with a homicide squad in the throes of a new case, and will be blogging about it whenever I get the chance.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 2:09 PM | | Comments (2)
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November 8, 2009

A mayoral snub

Yesterday, as suggested, I attended one of Mayor Sheila Dixon’s public events. It was a tree-planting ceremony at Dewees park, in the north of the city. It did not go well.

I arrived just before 9am, ahead of the mayor, and told her spokesman that, if possible, I would like to speak with her about crime and the issues I have witnessed during my visit. He took the message to her and I was told that it may be possible at the end.

An hour later the spokesman again raised the subject with the mayor and she made it clear there would be no interview. “What does he want?” she asked her spokesman. She said she did not want to speak about crime and added: “I’m planting trees today.”

So there will be no voice from the mayor in anything I write back home.

I leave Baltimore this evening after a spending a week here. I would like to think I have seen many sides of the city. Because of the nature of this exchange, I spent most of my week in neighbourhoods with high crime rates.

But many people throughout my trip had urged me to make sure I also visited the good parts of Baltimore. Yesterday I did that. I walked around Fort McHenry and the inner harbour and then went to some bars in Fells Point.

The city, due to its high homicide rate, is inextricably linked with crime, something which has no doubt been exacerbated by The Wire. But throughout my stay I have also witnessed the many good things the city has to offer.

While certain parts of the city are intimidating, I can assure fellow Brits that the whole of the city is not the murderous, drug dealing haven as is portrayed on the television.

The blog will continue over the next week or so, but most of the updates will now come from Justin who is in the UK until Thursday.

However, The Independent will be running articles from Justin and I throughout the week. I will post the links as and when they are published for those of you who may wish to read them.

The first of these ran in Saturday’s edition, and can be found here.
There is a link to Justin’s first article within the story.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first part of this exchange. Thanks for reading and thanks for having me.

Posted by Mark Hughes at 3:44 PM | | Comments (35)
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All quiet

I knew going in to this trip that any comparisons between Baltimore and London, and the UK 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 ridealongs 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 bike 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 drunk 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.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 1:19 PM | | Comments (12)
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November 7, 2009

On the streets with the Manchester gang squad

The headquarters of the Greater Manchester police force's X-Calibre squad could pass for any Baltimore police district station. Their second-floor office in center of the city's highest crime area, the Moss Side, was wallpapered with dozens and dozens of mug shots of young men identified as gang members, with names like "Tree Frog," "Baby Soldier," "Screwface" and "Dirt Star." Red and blue bandanas hanging over each group's section on the wall signaled their affiliation. Two of the major gangs even have started affiliating themselves with the Bloods and Crips.

"Many of these gangs are family members - it's almost as if you're born into that family, you're under that umbrella [of a gang]," said Detective Sgt. Rob Cousen. "It's difficult for lads to get out of that."

But Baltimore this is not. While Manchester's underbelly has drawn terrifying headlines in recent years and was compared by a British politician to inner city Baltimore, I drove around with officers for seven hours and saw clean streets and alleys, well-kept (and inhabited) homes and saw very few people out, on a Friday night no less. It rained intermittently, which could have been a factor, but the young men whose shocking crimes were explained to me in detail were nowhere to be found. I didn't even see a uniformed police presence, except for a few officers on foot patrol in the downtown nightlife hub (Literally. We didn't come across a uniformed officer until the end of the night when the officers kindly dropped me off at my downtown hotel).

It could have just been one of those slow nights, as there continue to be shootings and other gang-related activity (Cousen is due in court Monday to testify in an attempted murder trial for two men linked to a shooting inside a crowded club). But the city also went the entire month of August without a shooting - a feat that officials believed was a first, at least in recent memory.

That may be due to the work of the X-Calibre team, which has been targeting their efforts on intelligence gathering and intervention into gang activity. Gang-related firearms "discharges" were down 81 percent in the past fiscal year, something officials hope can help the city shed its nickname of "Gunchester."

I have much more to share about Manchester, but I've got to zip over to a ridealong in Brixton, an area of South London which over the years has been referred to as London's gun and drugs capital. More later.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:09 AM | | Comments (7)
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November 6, 2009

No official response

During my time in Baltimore I have endeavored to look at the whole spectrum of crime in the city. I have spoken to people who have taken and sold the drugs which have fuelled much of the murder.

I have spent evenings with uniformed police officers on the front line whose job it is to prevent and solve crime and I have chatted with detectives at murder scenes.

I have spoken to whole host of community groups who are working to try and resolve the issues in their neighborhood, which, depending on the area of the city, can include poverty, drug dealing, gun crime, gang-affiliation and murder.

And I have visited the court system and met with federal and state prosecutors who are charged with bringing Baltimore’s criminals to justice and have heard the problems they face.

Unfortunately I have not been granted an audience with, arguably, the two people ultimately responsible for rectifying Baltimore’s high crime rate.

Both the Mayor and the Police Commissioner have refused to be interviewed during this week-long exchange. The official reason is scheduling issues. Neither of them have had the time to speak with me.

However I can’t help but think that, because the ostensible reason for my trip is The Wire, they could be disinclined to meet with me for fear that I will focus on nothing but the negative image of the city as portrayed on the show.

Ultimately I do not think their refusal or inability to co-operate has impacted too much upon my ability to get a good impression of the city’s crime picture. Although perhaps their input would have lifted my coverage and informed my views and observations.

I am aware that the mayor has a public schedule and I have been told that I am more than welcome to turn up and attempt to speak with her. I may attempt this tomorrow but there is a caveat. Her office says there is no guarantee she will speak with me.

Posted by Mark Hughes at 4:10 PM | | Comments (14)
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A chat with London's police commissioner

I sat down this morning with Sir Paul Stephenson, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Department, for a rare one-on-one interview. Stephenson commands a force of 34,000 officers and more than 50,000 total staff, and is responsible for areas of law enforcement that in America might be handled by federal or other authorities.

I will post later tonight, after touring Manchester's Moss Side with the Xcalibre gang unit, but generally, Stephenson said he was "pleased, not delighted," about crime reductions in London while discussing an uptick in gun incidents and his agency's efforts to tackle youth gangs. He also talked, with some depth, about a recent controversy in which he ordered specialized units to stop armed patrols in high crime areas. The Metropolitan police force is not armed other than a very small number of special initiatives (representing less than 500 officers), and he wants to keep it that way. It's the will of the public and of the police officers themselves, he said. The unit that was carrying out the patrols are used to carrying weapons and didn't realize the gravity of the situation, he said.

At the end of our chat, he told me to pass along that he wished well for Baltimore officers.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 9:06 AM | | Comments (4)
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About 'Crime: A Tale of Two Cities'
When "The Wire" gained popularity in Great Britain, we were contacted by a London-based journalist who proposed a job swap. Mark Hughes, a crime reporter with The Independent, a national newspaper in the United Kingdom, wanted to come to Baltimore to see if the city’s police officers, drug dealers, prosecutors and politicians bore any resemblance to those on show. We agreed to complete the exchange by sending our police reporter, Justin Fenton, to London to compare crime trends. We’ll publish some of their work in the print edition of The Sun, and more observations will be available here.

Local media coverage
• 105.7-FM The Fan: The Ed Norris Show
• WBFF Fox45: London Reporter Greeted with Crime - John Rydell
• WAMU 88.5-FM: "The Wire" Inspires Trans-Atlantic Reporter Exchange



An American in London
Justin Fenton has covered crime for the Baltimore Sun for five years, in suburban counties and Baltimore City. His award-winning work has included coverage of the Amish schoolhouse slayings in Lancaster, Penn.; a 16-year-old boy who executed his parents and two brothers in their sleep; a three-part series about the odyssey of a female serial con artist; and a small town’s crippling baseball stadium deal with a hometown athlete.

Justin's articles from The Baltimore Sun
• Crime and race: A different world (November 27)
• Britons reject likening crime levels to Baltimore's (December 7)

A Brit in Baltimore
Mark Hughes is the crime correspondent for The Independent newspaper in Britain, a national daily based in London. He has covered the goings on at Scotland Yard, and further afield, since 2008. Previous to that he was the paper’s north of England reporter, working from Manchester. He joined The Independent in 2007 after three years working on a regional newspaper in Carlisle.

Mark's articles from The Independent
• Just minutes after I arrived, I was at the scene of a shooting ... (November 7)
• 189 homicides this year – this is The Wire, only real (November 9)
• The trials of 'Baltimore's Boris' (November 10)
• 'Wire' star joins real fight against crime (November 11)
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Baltimore City homicide map
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