Tall promises don't count Residents are angry, say street crime a real election issue.

August 07, 1991|By Raymond L. Sanchez | Raymond L. Sanchez,Evening Sun Staff

"Everybody's angry!" says Officer Myron E. McClain as he strolls down Broadway, past women and children on their stoops and merchants behind bulletproof partitions.

McClain, 28, is a seven-year veteran of the city police department. He patrols the streets of the Eastern District -- a 3.2-

square-mile chunk of Baltimore that recorded 43 homicides last year.

McClain's post is in the shadows of Johns Hopkins Hospital. It is a neighborhood where families escape the August heat on the stoops of brick or Formstone rowhouses, where children laugh and play outside as drugs are sold on street corners.

Residents say they can never take their eyes off their children because occasional gun battles between warring drug dealers have claimed innocent lives.

With tall promises for better housing and schools, Baltimore's mayoral candidates are gearing up for the Sept. 12 primary election. But Myron McClain says he knows the question many city residents are really asking: What about crime?

"People are angry," said McClain.

Last year, there were 305 homicides in Baltimore -- the highest level since 1972, when a record 330 people were killed.

But it was a violent year nationwide as murder records were broken in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Washington and other U.S. cities. Authorities attributed most of the bloodshed to drugs.

On New Year's Eve, Mayor Kurt Schmoke discussed the problem with top police brass. "We can't have a repeat of this in 1991," he declared after the meeting.

The city has logged more than 160 homicides so far this year.

"I know we're ahead of the [1990] pace," Schmoke says of the murder rate. "We're fighting in the middle of a major national problem."

Not surprisingly, crime is an issue many voters seem to be talking about. Still, the topic seems to have taken a back seat in this year's mayoral campaigns.

"I just don't see candidates making it a major campaign issue," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-City.

"I'm surprised no one has made it a centerpiece of their campaign," added Rawlings, who is backing Schmoke in the election.

Grace Jones, president of the Broadway Development Foundation, says, "The politicians don't want to talk about crime. How are they going to help curb it so we can live peacefully in our homes without all these bars on our windows?"

Democratic mayoral hopeful William A. Swisher, who like Schmoke is a former Baltimore state's attorney, is pushing a law-and-order theme. And Republican candidate Samuel A. Culotta said last week that a state of emergency should be declared in Baltimore and the state militia brought in.

Swisher also thinks the National Guard should be called into neighborhoods where drug trafficking is heavy.

"Crime is probably the biggest issue on people's minds," says Swisher, who, in a successful bid for state's attorney in 1974, ran a campaign that capitalized on the city's rising

crime rate.

Many potential voters, however, disagree with Culotta's proposal send the state militia into their neighborhoods. They would prefer to see more foot patrol officers, like McClain, on the street.

"Recently, a couple of cops came around here and said `f something about more cops walking the street," said Kathy Payne, sitting on the steps of an East Baltimore rowhouse. "Where are they at? What was that all about?"

Payne says she has not seen a greater police presence this summer even though the city put 50 officers on foot patrol in July. Police officials said the foot patrols will be halted when the department runs out of overtime money for them.

"When we run out of money, we'll stop," police spokesman Dennis Hill said. "They envision running it through the summer."

Payne and several other city residents interviewed last week are skeptical about the city's new policing plan. Some called it an election-year ploy by Schmoke.

"I agreed with them," said Payne. "We need more cops on the BTC street. But they were pulling my leg. I haven't seen no more

cops. No one's gonna get my vote."

The Eastern District is one of the city's most active. In addition to the 43 homicides reported last year (surpassed only by the Western with 78), there were 73 rapes, 1,009 aggravated assaults and 1,044 robberies.

"People feel intimidated," says Jones, of the Broadway Development Foundation. "No one feels safe."

Without additional money from the state legislature, the city has been unable to fill more than 100 police department vacancies. And last year, Baltimore only received about $200,000 of $3 million in federal criminal justice grants available through the state because the city lacked matching funds.

"Kurt [Schmoke] didn't really apply for these grants," said Floyd Pond, executive director of the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, which administers the grants.

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