Fear of crime

December 10, 1991

Recently, a man driving his car downtown during rush hour with a small boy as passenger suddenly found himself in the middle of a robbery in progress. Another car suddenly emerged from a darkened alley; its driver, momentarily blocked by the man's car, used his vehicle as a battering ram to push the obstacle aside, then swerved out into the traffic, tires screeching, and fishtailed away down Centre Street. An instant later, the man saw a woman run from the alley shouting, "He stole my car!"

The episode lasted only a few seconds, but it left the man shaken. It occurred to him that one might not be safe even in the middle of downtown at the height of rush hour. He is not alone in his concern. A mayoral task force report released today on public safety in the downtown area noted that fear of crime is a major deterrent to tourism and shopping in Baltimore.

Sponsored by the Downtown Partnership, a public/private non-profit group of businesses and city agencies, the report found that although statistics show that downtown Baltimore is safer than any other area of the city, public safety is one of the biggest concerns of area business. The report also found that environmental conditions such as darkened parking lots, boarded-up buildings and dirty streets contribute to people's feelings that downtown is unsafe and keep them away from many areas.

Fear of "crime and grime" has serious economic consequences for downtown businesses. Recognizing that the business community has a responsibility to take the lead in combating this problem, the task force offers a prescription for maintaining a safe environment downtown, including better lighting, teaming up business people and police to improve crime resistance efforts and a crackdown on aggressive panhandlers who intimidate patrons and employees of local businesses.

The task force members acknowledged that in these tough economic times, addressing issues of downtown public safety will take the combined efforts of business people, community leaders and law enforcement officials. But task force co-chairman Connie Caplan struck the right note when she summed up her colleagues' efforts with the observation that "public safety is a very complex issue that impacts everyone who uses downtown. We can't solve the issues overnight, but our recommendations are positive, affordable first steps that can be acted upon immediately."

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