The crime issue

August 13, 1991

The city election is just a little more than four weeks away, and by now the issues have become well-defined. Ask any NTC candidate for any office to name those issues, and the chances are that no matter what section of the city the candidate comes from -- whether from dark and dangerous inner city streets or from the outwardly placid suburbs -- he or she likely will say the uppermost issue is crime.

Crime is an issue that's easy to articulate but hard to address. Yet there's no question that public concern over the growth of crime in Baltimore is well-founded. The just-released FBI Uniform Crime Reports for 1990 -- the best statistical base available -- shows that Baltimore ranks distressingly high among the nation's 10 worst cities in the incidence of robbery and murder.

The murder rate has risen from 30 per 100,000 population per year to 41 per 100,000. The robbery rate is even worse: up from 11 per 1,000 population to 13 per 1,000. This makes Baltimore the fifth most dangerous city in America in the murder rate, and the third most dangerous in the robbery rate.

Yet, while candidates talk about crime, they offer few programs to combat the upsurge of terror in the streets. If pressed, the candidate usually calls for beefed-up police protection.

Whether more police would stem the blood tide is an open question, to say the least. But assume for the moment that it would; the question remains, how do we pay for that protection?

More police officers cost more money, and in a time of finite -- and shrinking -- resources, that money can come from but two sources: higher taxes, or from the budgets of schools, libraries, parks and housing -- the panoply of city social services.

It is well and good for candidates to stress the crime issue. But if they propose to do something about it, they are obliged to tell us how they will deal with it.

If we let the candidates get away without answering that question, we will get what we deserve in the coming four years, which is to say, higher taxes, reduced services or broken promises.

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