Little Italy's cry for help

September 09, 1992

A month ago it was the Baltimore NAACP crying for action against increasing street crimes. Now it is Little Italy, the small and tightly knit neighborhood of ethnic families and restaurants near the Inner Harbor.

"This has been the worst summer since I've lived here, and this last month has been the worst of all," says Richard Ingrao, 29, president of the Little Italy Community Association.

Little Italy's crime rate, compared with many other areas, may not be so high. But that is of little consolation to residents after a number of dramatic incidents recently. They are now talking about hiring armed guards to patrol the neighborhood. At the same time they reject any suggestion that they hire off-duty city policemen to beef-up security.

"The people of the city are desperate. Even police on the street realize what a fiasco the Baltimore City police department is," contends Joseph Scalia, a neighborhood leader and recent unsuccessful Republican candidate for mayor. "If officers were allowed to do their duty, citizens wouldn't have to pay extra for security."

Whether or not Mr. Scalia and Mr. Ingrao -- an erstwhile unsuccessful Democratic candidate for City Council -- have ulterior political motives, they voice a widely felt alarm about the inadequacy of police protection. As the concerns expressed by the NAACP earlier in the summer underscored, various neighborhoods throughout the city feel street crime is getting out of hand. "We've got to do something," NAACP's George N. Buntin Jr. said in July. "We can't just throw our hands up and say that this violence is a sign of the times."

So far, official response to these concerns has been disappointingly puny, thus adding to this crisis of confidence. That clearly has contributed to the Little Italy residents' feeling that nothing will change unless they take things into their own hands and hire an armed security force of their own to give them a sense of safety.

Baltimore is not Beirut. We do not need rival militias here. At the same time, though, we urge Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Police Commissioner Edward Woods to make it plain to everyone that they have heard -- and are responding to -- this mounting chorus of concern for safety reverberating throughout city neighborhoods.

We cannot comprehend why Mayor Schmoke and Mr. Woods have not been more open and forceful on this matter. This is particularly puzzling in light of plans to transform the city police department into an instrument of community policing. At a time like this, the city should do everything it can to win the various neighborhoods to its side in an all-out fight against crime.

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