Why can’t Baltimore solve its crime epidemic?

The Southeast Baltimore I remember looked nothing like it does today. Patterson Park had a park. Highlandtown had shopping on Eastern Ave. and Greektown had restaurants. But Canton, Brewers Hill and Butcher’s Hill were more local history lessons than community’s for upcoming young professionals.

As I was growing up, the 70s and 80s were not too kind to the area. You had changing demographics, the decline of Bethlehem Steel, a reduction in government policy initiatives and funding and in the early to mid 1980s the drug epidemic wrecked havoc on the city.

Southeast Baltimore gets caught up in the real estate boom

I was surprised when I came back from the University of Virginia and my friends that went the Gilmans and Loyolas of the Baltimore prep school world now lived on Linwood and Eastern Ave. Why would a kid from Roland Park or Ruxton live in Highlandtown? But they corrected me. They lived in Canton. I had no clue about this place. Who fixed all of the problems of the past decades?

Then I realized what happened. The real estate world and community associations successfully marketed Southeast Baltimore as a burgeoning hip neighborhood for young professionals. Once the idea was planted, the race was on to snatch up as much as this “New Baltimore” as possible. For nearly a decade it seemed that every house in the area was being rehabbed or for sale. Exposed brick in your living room was no longer structural damage but a sign you had arrived.

Canton Square (Wikipedia)
Canton Square (Wikipedia)

I bought in too and for about a decade I called Canton home. But in the back of my mind I never forgot that this is still Southeast Baltimore. I never forgot the vast expanse of what lay just North of Patterson Park. I always felt that lurking underneath and surrounding “New Baltimore” was “Old Baltimore” with its culture of violence that was never addressed – you saw Old Baltimore on the news everyday or on “The Wire.” And then I realized, no one had fixed the problems. They had just been covered up.

The City bet that the community’s past ills would just go away. If this “New Baltimore” continues to buy real estate and expand, it would push aside all those past problems the area faced. New housing means more people moving into the city driving revenue in the form of property taxes. More revenue means a bigger budget to make Baltimore even more attractive and that culture of violence will go somewhere else. Where? I don’t know if anyone was sure.

So here was the question: “Could a run-a-way real estate market with what seemed unlimited resources conquer a mind-set sculpted by decades of neglect, abuse and fear?’ Or would the rubber hit the road and worlds collide?

But a funny thing happened on the way to gentrification, the entire country went through a Recession and the housing bubble burst. That engine the City believed was going to do their job for them blew a gasket. What you’re left with is two distinct realities in many places occupying the same space.

Recession exposes the heart of the problem

That lurking culture of violence has begun to rear its head in the Canton, Highlandtown and Patterson Park areas. The communities have been hit by a substantial uptick in crime – violent crime.  Police data shows that violent crime and gun crime have risen in the District 19 percent  and 16 percent respectively from this time last year.

 Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake named Dr. Anthony W. Batts, D.P.A. commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department effective September 27, 2012. (Public Domain)
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake named Dr. Anthony W. Batts, D.P.A. commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department effective September 27, 2012. (Public Domain)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts facilitated one contentious meeting in February that could not accommodate all those who wanted to attend. Many issues were tossed around but the reduction of violence needs to be our number one priority.

Baltimore isn’t the only major metropolitan area out there with a violence problem. Many pundits weigh in on what they think will fix inner city violence, yet results from other cities show that reducing violence is the proverbial horse which will pull the cart of social and economic change.

Address violence first

Case in point: In 2010 the Campbell Collaborative at George Mason University – an international research network that produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions – looked at a wide spectrum of more than 40 crime prevention programs to determine what was successful.

Their findings showed that programs concentrating on either arresting or delivering more social services to individual offenders did not work as well efforts that focused on stopping the opportunity for crime to occur in little pockets referred to as “hot spots.”

A primary component of this approach is collaboration among police, prosecutors, residents and the business community.  The program in its variable forms has been shown across the country to produce results and surrounding areas also show a reduction in crime.

dontshoot_small.narBaltimore is lucky enough to be given a second chance to work with a renown criminologist in America today. Fifteen years after David M. Kennedy unsuccessfully attempted to implement his “Ceasefire” program in Baltimore, he’s back to try again.

Kennedy’s approach concentrates on targeting hot spots consisting of open-air drug markets and gun crime by having law enforcement, clergy and community members personally confront those responsible for the violence. They are given the choice to either stop the violence and follow an offered path of rehabilitation, or have the entire community come down hard on them.

Case in point: In early February over 100 young men from South Philadelphia testified in front of the Philadelphia City Council about how the program changed their lives. Also, from 2012 to 2013, homicides in that city dropped by more than 25 percent.

Be it whatever was the excuse back in the days of the Schmoke and O’Malley administrations, a program that immediately reduced crime from Coast to Coast in more than 60 cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans and Oakland, couldn’t take hold here.

Where is the accountability?

We need to ask why programs like “Ceasefire” failed the first time and what do we need to do to make it work this time. With such a track record, why shouldn’t it work in Baltimore? Or is it that we need to specifically address the management of this City?

A community meeting will be held at the St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church with the State’s Attorney Greg Bernstein on March 19. It would be the perfect time to start asking these types of specific questions and get specific answers.

Event: Meeting with Gregg Bernstein:  D.elegate Luke Clippinger with State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein and Secretary of Juvenile Services Sam Abed will host the community meeting
Where: St. Elizabeth of Hungary, at 2638 E. Baltimore St.
Day and Time: March 19 at 7 p.m.

One thought on “Why can’t Baltimore solve its crime epidemic?

  • March 13, 2014 at 6:55 PM

    The other thing to add is the economic piece. There has to be jobs coming into the city that fits into a variety of educational attainment levels so that folks can move out of poverty into the middle class.

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