Neighborhood Anguish over Crime

September 15, 1992

Little Italy residents are considering anti-crime patrols to curb sporadic lawlessness in their tight rowhouse and restaurant neighborhood near Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Convinced that their problems are due to their proximity to a public housing project, some are even talking about erecting a fence to keep "troublemakers" out.

Crime and fear of crime are such a defining feature of life in today's urban America that people's concern for personal safety should not be minimized. But neither should it be exploited for fanning hysteria. Some of the current agitation by Little Italy leaders with unfulfilled political ambitions comes dangerously close to that.

Yet Little Italy's safety concerns are painfully real. So were the NAACP's worries earlier this summer, when that civil rights organization called public attention to crime rampant on streets throughout Baltimore City. In both cases, the official response has been woefully inadequate.

Instead of addressing these citizen concerns, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Police Commissioner Edward Woods have remained silent. Perhaps they are overwhelmed by it all and, considering a city faced with further budgetary restraints, see no easy solutions. Nevertheless they could -- and should -- take a high-visibility role in rallying Baltimore residents behind the police. This is particularly important now that the police department is in the process of shifting into community policing, a concept that remains vague and strange to most city residents.

Baltimore does not need armed militias or vigilantes. But if the city's top leaders fail to provide real and psychological assurances about citizens' safety, more neighborhoods are likely consider taking matters in their own hands, complicating the already difficult work of law enforcement.

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