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August 4, 2010

City Hall says fear of crime matters

I have repeatedly in my Crime Scenes articles talked about how people's fears about crime negate statistics showing people shouldn't be afraid. After all, crime is down to 20 year lows in some categories.

City leaders, then as in the past, love to blame the media for hyping crime beyond proportion. And yes, one sensational crime -- the stabbing of the Hopkins researcher or virtually anything that happens at the Inner Harbor -- can shatter people's peace of mind. The picture at left by The Sun's Justin Fenton is from a recent shooting in East Baltimore of a church caretaker.

The shooting at the Hilton Tuesday night stemmed from a domestic argument confined to a room, but because it happened in one of the city's premier hotels, it gets attention. It can only solidify Baltimore's bad reputation when tourists see police rushing into the hotel and taking someone out on a stretcher and another out in handcuffs.

If you visit another city for the first time and see police swarm the primary shopping street, you might conclude the city is unsafe and you'll never visit again, even if that was the first time something bad happened in the past decade. Similarly, people call the newsroom all the time saying they saw three police cars speed by their house and that's evidence crime is out of control.

It's difficult because fear can't be quantified. And even if the fear is unjustified or irrational, it's still there and still has a negative effect. Combating it is nearly impossible, and citing stats virtually useless.

Today, I wrote about how these same issues were in play 36 years ago. On Sunday, I wrote about how two neighborhoods dealt with separate killings. I also received an e-mail from Ian T. Brennan, one of the spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. This is what he had to say:

The Mayor addressed this point last week on a couple of occasions, saying, “For the first six months of this year, we had the fewest killings in 25 years, but this statistic does not bring comfort to a grieving family. Last month we had the fewest number of shooting on record, but this fact does not bring relief to a neighborhood that witnesses a heinous crime. We have made great progress in reducing violence but our work is not done until all the people of Baltimore feel safe in their neighborhoods.” 

Throughout the year,she repeatedly said that the drop in crime was “not a cause for celebration,” but rather “a call to do even more.”

What’s more, mentioning the recent decrease in crime is not our way of disregarding the concerns of people in the City. It is an important acknowledgment the efforts of the Police Department and dedicated community leaders to reduce crime.  As you no doubt read last week, the Mayor’s family was touched by a senseless act of violence that nearly killed her brother. She understands the impact crime has on victims and their families.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:21 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: City Hall, Neighborhoods


Peter, from my short time in the city, it seems like the same people commit the same crimes over and over. If these criminals actually did some time for their crimes, it seems like the crime rate would have to go down. What are the barriers to keeping people in jail for their entire sentence? If there is no space or money, how much are we short?

Peter, from my short time in the city, it seems like the same people commit the same crimes over and over. If these criminals actually did some time for their crimes, it seems like the crime rate would have to go down. What are the barriers to keeping people in jail for their entire sentence? If there is no space or money, how much are we short?

The thing is Peter, I've lived in several cities. Atlanta, Oakland, Portland and here. And it really is worse here. The city looks bedraggled and run down. There's weeds and trash leading into the city on 295. Even in downtown the city looks bad. THis leads to a perception that people don't care here. And crime is more violent here, more shocking than stuff I saw in other cities. It's not perception, it's real. There is seriously something wrong in this city, a city I love. A city I think has amazing potential. But a city I will likely leave for the safety of my family.

In light of these "unfounded rapes" to keep the numbers looking good, are we left to trust they aren't doing the same with other stats? ie - homicides

Are they ever ruled as "no foul play" when in fact they could be... just for the sake of the numbers? I heard a rumor (yes, not always true) that a man was found dead in his truck, gagged, bound and dead. But it was not ruled a homicide. Granted, I don't know more on it than that.

Though a popular theory, I have seen no credible evidence or ever talked to a police officer - disgruntled or otherwise - who could point to a homicide being covered up. All the other stats, however, seem to be open to manipulation, and that goes for here and across the country. -JF

The reason that citing stats is useless is combating people's fears is that the stats have been shown over and over again to be suspect, as evidenced by the latest stories about mis- and under-reported rapes.

No one can trust the stats released by the police or mayor's office. And until they can, it's not going to make a difference in people's perceptions.


The problem is that too many people are locked up for absurdly long sentences for absurd reasons. The lead article from last week's The Economist argues that the US political class's never-ending quest to be seen as "tough on crime" leads to laws and regulations which stipulate jail time for even the most innocuous of charges. Because we stuff our prisons full of non-violent offenders, including low-level drug dealers, we don't have the room and resources to house the small minority of criminals who pose a true threat to society.

Baltimore is a pit Peter. It is like a toilet overflowing, the feces the crap is everywhere.
If with this "progress on crime" crap our worthless leaders like MOM and his puppet SRB spew Harm City is still one of the most dangerous cities in America.
Lets celebrate when Baltimore drops out of the top 20 crime ridden cities.

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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