Many say crime is worsening Baltimore, suburbs divided over safety

March 20, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,University of Maryland Institute of Criminal Justice and CriminologyStaff Writer

Marylanders think violent crime has grown worse in the past year, but outside of Baltimore most feel their own neighborhoods are safe, according to a survey released yesterday at the Governor's Summit on Violent Crime.

In the city, 60 percent said crime in their neighborhoods was a serious problem.

And while 23 percent of Marylanders polled said they had been a victim of crime in the last year, most were unwilling to support a tax increase to build more prisons.

"There are indications that the public is accepting crime as a way of life," that it's "just something they have to accept and put up with," said Dr. Charles Wellford, who conducted the survey for the University of Maryland Institute of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

Community members also had a chance to express their views at yesterday's violent-crime summit at a "People's Forum," where citizens stepped up to an open microphone to address law enforcement officials.

Gloria Goldfaden, executive director of People Against Child Abuse, Inc., said the first step to stopping violent crime was getting rid of open-air drug markets.

"In Annapolis, my office is one block away from an open-air drug market. That office is two blocks away from the State House," she complained. "Why aren't we doing something about open-air drug markets? If they're open, why aren't we doing something?"

Of the 824 people interviewed for the formal survey, about 80 percent completed it the first time pollsters called them. Dr. Wellford said that response was extremely high and that it was an indication "there is tremendous concern about violent crime in Maryland."

The respondents were highly critical of the courts and the prison system.

Asked if they would pay $100 more in taxes to build more prisons, 57 percent said no. This is a substantial decrease in support when compared to a similar question in a 1989 Sun poll.

"The reason they won't pay $100 more for prisons is reflected in their opinion of how Corrections is doing its job," Dr. Wellford said. "It's doing a terrible job, in their view."

Maryland residents are very clear about what causes violent crime. Some 58 percent said drugs were the main culprit, compared to 18 percent who blamed the economy and 9 percent each for a breakdown of morality and a breakdown of the family.

When asked how serious crime is in the state, 96 percent said it was somewhat serious or very serious. Those results mirrored the findings of a Sun poll taken last month.

But when asked about crime in their own neighborhoods, only 10 percent of Marylanders generally said it was very serious and 27 percent said it was somewhat serious.

These figures indicate that although Maryland residents say crime is a serious problem in the state, it is a problem for somebody else, not for them, Dr. Wellford said.

Here, however, Baltimore city residents departed from their suburban or rural neighbors. In the city, 60 percent said crime in their neighborhoods was somewhat serious or very serious, compared to 33 percent in the Baltimore suburbs.

Overall, 30 percent said someone in their household had been a victim of crime in the past year. Of that number, 7 percent were either threatened or hurt by their assailant.

This compares with a national average of 24 percent who report having been crime victims in the past year, with 5 percent saying they were hurt or threatened.

Respondents gave police relatively high marks for their efforts against crime, with 66 percent saying police were doing an excellent or good job.

By contrast, only 27 percent liked the courts' performance and only 33 percent thought the prison system was doing a good or excellent job.

When asked about what government should do about violent crime, the most popular response was that it should organize programs that involve community residents.

"The public is out there doing things," Dr. Wellford said. "They're out there on their own, banding together with their neighbors."

Community members who spoke yesterday at the "People's Forum" proposed a variety of solutions.

Paul Kelly of West Baltimore suggested that lawmen spend more time soliciting advice from former criminals. "The ATF was in my neighborhood the other day, doing what they're supposed to do. . . . I had to spend a half an hour with my community explaining what the ATF was," Mr. Kelly said.

An agent came up and asked him why he knew so much about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "I spent a lot of time running from you," he told the agent.

Isaiah D. Hill, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Back River, had a succinct suggestion for dealing with violent criminals: "I think we should first give them the Gospel and then give them the chair!"

How Marylanders feel about crime

Here are some results of a University of Maryland poll on crime released as part of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's summit on violent street crime.

How serious is the crime problem in your neighborhood?

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Baltimore.. .. Baltimore

.. .. .. .. .. ..State.. . City.. .. .. suburbs

Very serious.. .. .10%.. .. 21%.. .. .. . 5%

Somewhat serious.. 27%.. .. 39%.. .. .. 28%

Not very serious.. 38%.. .. 28%.. .. .. .42%

Not serious.. .. . 25%.. .. 12%.. .. .. .25%

Were you a victim of crime in the last year?

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Baltimore.. .. Baltimore

.. .. .. .. .. ..State.. . City.. .. .. suburbs

Yes.. .. .. .. .. .23%.. .. 28%.. .. .. . 24%

No.. .. .. .. .. . 77%.. .. 72%.. .. .. . 76%

How good a job is the criminal justice system of Maryland doing in combating violent crime?

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Police.. .. .. Courts.. .. .. Corrections

Excellent.. .. .. .. .. .14%.. .. .. . 4%.. .. .. .. . 4%

Good.. .. .. .. .. .. .. 52%.. .. .. . 23%.. .. .. .. 29%

Fair.. .. .. .. .. .. .. 28%.. .. .. . 39%.. .. .. .. 35%

Poor 6% 34% 32%

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