Air strike launched on violence Callers sound off on radio summit

April 26, 1993|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer

For a few hours last night, rap fell silent on Baltimore's V-103 and gospel was stilled on Heaven-600. Country-and-western took a break on WPTX down in Lexington Park and the symphonies paused on WSCL in Salisbury.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and a SWAT team of state officials took to the airwaves on 11 Maryland radio stations and Maryland Public Television to answer listeners' questions on crime.

From the moment the phones started ringing at the second Governor's Radio Summit on Violent Street Crime, it appeared that the evening would tap plenty of frustration but generate little consensus and uncover few new ideas.

The first two callers, for instance, both had ideas they thought might help empty the prisons and make the streets safe. But Joanna from Towson wanted to start executing more criminals. David from Millersville, by contrast, thought the government should legalize drugs.

So it went, with most callers more interested in sounding off than finding out.

Steve in Pikesville wanted to know why the state police weren't locking up killers rather than giving "blue-haired old ladies tickets for going 65 in a 55 [mph] zone." Anne in Aberdeen wanted to know "why can't someone revamp the criminal justice system, because as it stands now, it's a joke?"

Callers split over whether gun control might help and compared notes with Governor Schaefer over what, exactly, is an assault weapon.

A Baltimore minister tussled with Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, over whether corrupt officials may be covering for "high-level, white-collar drug dealers." A woman thought it an outrage that some prison inmates had in their cells "satellite TV, which I myself cannot afford."

Through it all, Governor Schaefer and his colleagues, including top officials in juvenile services, health and education, had a delicate task: To defend their own efforts to cope with crime while acknowledging the magnitude of the problem.

The governor repeatedly tried to turn callers' queries back on them, insisting that they and their neighbors should take more responsibility for calling police on drug dealers, lobbying legislators for gun control and exercising supervision over their children.

Across the studio from Governor Schaefer at the Owings Mills studios of Maryland Public Television sat 13 officials from police and other state and local agencies dealing with crime. Callers who preferred not to speak on the air could reach those officials via a second toll-free number to ask them questions, offer suggestions or report suspected lawbreakers.

By the end of the program, the specialists had fielded calls from 187 people, offering at least 400 tips on criminal activity or suggestions for the criminal justice system. About 50 calls were heard on the broadcast, and jammed telephone lines indicated hundreds more people had tried to get on the air, according to Leonard A. Sipes, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Last year, the radio summit received 140 calls that led to 10 criminal investigations, officials said.

The radio summit is part of the preparation for a face-to-face crime summit at Coppin State College May 19 and 20 that will include a television production of "The Montel Williams Show" and an address by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

The choice of the black-oriented sister stations WXYV-FM, or V-103, and WCAO-AM, aka Heaven 600, for the flagship role in this year's summit was not accidental, said Mr. Sipes.

After the first radio summit was broadcast on Baltimore's news-oriented WBAL last year, Mr. Sipes said, "we got encouragement from various members of the media to use a radio station that directly reaches out to the African-American community."

V-103, whose 50,000-watt voice reaches all of central Maryland and the upper Eastern Shore, volunteered to play a leading role, said April Ryan, news director and anchor for WXYV and WCAO. She said the stations have been active for several years in the "Stop the Violence" public service campaign.

"We're an urban station, and while violence affects everyone, it does disproportionately hit urban African-American males," Ms. Ryan said. "People are getting tired of what's going on."

A Justice Department study has calculated that one in 133 Americans will be a victim of homicide -- compared with one in 30 African-American males, Mr. Sipes said. About two in five black males will be victims of violent crime three or more times in their lifetimes, the study found.

Preparing for this year's summit, officials traced rates of major crimes in Maryland since 1975. Strikingly, they found that the rate of property crime last year was almost precisely the same as that 17 years earlier. But the rate of violent crime had soared more than 40 percent.

For individual crimes the contrast was even more dramatic. The rate of serious assault, for instance, increased 58 percent since 1975, rape was up 53 percent and murder up 14 percent.

For breaking and entering, meanwhile, the rate declined 20 percent. Theft was up just 3 percent.

Among property crimes, the only sharp increase was motor vehicle theft, up 40 percent.

Governor Schaefer last night remarked on the role of car theft as a school for potential career criminals and called for tougher, more consistent penalties.

The disproportionate growth of crimes of violence is also reflected in national statistics, Mr. Sipes said. The reasons are not clear, but neighborhood watch programs and other crime prevention efforts generally have been more successful against property crime than against violent crime, he said.

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