Fighting city crime and grime Downtown patrols mark six months

August 29, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

For Stanley Sindler, the effort to fight crime and grime in downtown Baltimore is a lot like his grandmother's chicken noodle soup.

It won't cure everything, but it "sure can't hurt," says the owner of a snack shop in the 200 block of St. Paul St.

Business people and workers say the safety guides and sanitation workers -- hired with revenue from a surtax on downtown property owners and businesses -- have been a welcome presence since they hit the streets six months ago.

The 35 safety guides and 28 sanitation workers were deployed throughout downtown on March 1 as part of the effort to make the 106-block area more appealing to tourists and suburbanites who perceive the city as dirty and dangerous. They're employed by the Downtown Partnership, a private business group that seeks to boost downtown's image.

Baltimore's "clean and safe" program reflects a national -- even international -- trend to improve the image of commercial business districts in large cities and curtail the flight of businesses and residents to the suburbs by creating special management districts to supplement municipal safety and sanitation services.

The districts, which businesses support with fees or taxes, now operate in nearly all major U.S. cities, said Dee Doyle, director of marketing and information services at the International Downtown Association. Among the larger cities, only Washington, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Boston and Providence, R.I., do not have special districts employing private safety and sanitation workers.

"They're exploding all across the U.S. and Canada, and are having appeal in Europe and even South Africa," she said. "Johannesburg has a management district."

Programs such as these are helping Philadelphia shed the moniker "Filthydelphia," she said, and are seen as a way to revitalize urban centers by changing the perception, if not the reality, that cities are unpleasant. Over the past three decades, Ms. Doyle said, that perception has aided the growth of suburban malls and business centers.

In Baltimore's "clean and safe" program, the safety guides are trained to act as eyes and ears for police, and to assist tourists and other visitors. They and the sanitation workers are known as the "purple people" because they wear purple hats with the logo "Downtown Baltimore" and dark pants with purple stripes down the legs. In the summer, guides wear white shirts; sanitation workers wear red shirts.

Demetri Carman, who owns a restaurant in the 300 block of N. Calvert St., believes the safety guides have deterred crime. He said he will gladly continue to pay the surcharge of 23 cents per $100 of assessed property value to keep them around.

"I'd pay more tax money to put more police out here, but the guys with the walkie-talkies help a little," Mr. Carman said.

Said Mr. Sindler, whose snack shop is called Trotters: "We're still getting some theft, but maybe we would have more theft if they weren't here."

Tyrone Morrow, who has an outdoor vending stand in the 300 block of St. Paul Place, said he's seen improvement. "The streets do look cleaner because they come by and clean them two and three times a day," he said.

Positive response

Laurie Schwartz, president of the Downtown Partnership, said the agency solicited comments about the "clean and safe" program from businesses and visitors. Ninety percent of the 150 responses viewed the guides favorably, and 96 percent supported the new sanitation workers, Ms. Schwartz said.

"We've had a positive response from the public, as well as property owners who pay the tax, on a daily basis," she said, adding that tourists and downtown employees have sent letters and have called with praise for the safety guides and sanitation workers. She said the owner of one longtime business has

described the change as being "like a warm, fuzzy blanket."

The Downtown Partnership operates on a $1.9 million budget, $1.6 million of which comes from the special surcharge that the city collects from downtown property owners. The partnership also receives $180,000 from the city, $50,000 from the state and $60,000 from tax-exempt property owners, such as Mercy Medical Center and Maryland General Hospital.

Fifty-three percent of the money pays for the guides, 32 percent for sanitation, 9 percent for marketing and 6 percent for administration, Ms. Schwartz said.

The guides earn $17,000 a year and sanitation workers earn $13,400. All receive health benefits.

Gerri Wright Ingerson, who owns a travel agency downtown, said the uniformed workers "are very much worth the money."

Frank Russo, the partnership's public safety director and a former major in the Baltimore Police Department, said the guides cannot act as police officers, but track trouble-makers by using walkie-talkies to gather information for police.

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