More police, bright lights in plan for safer downtown

January 14, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

The headlines and haunting images of a national television series portray Baltimore as one of the deadliest cities in the nation.

It's enough to keep even some of the city's own from venturing into the downtown streets.

Yesterday, the mayor stepped forward with a new initiative to reassure tourists and residents alike. The plan, drafted by a coalition of business leaders and city officials, calls for opening a police substation downtown, brightening the lights and encouraging companies to network in the fight against street crime.

"I believe this is an important step to help us tackle not only the reality, but even more importantly, I think, the perception of crime as it relates to downtown," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said in unveiling the plan at his weekly news conference.

The Downtown Partnership, a private business group that promotes downtown Baltimore, drew together more than 50 downtown business owners, police officers and government officials.

The coalition will work to create "a comprehensive web of public safety programs to enhance what we already have," Mr. Schmoke said. He and Gov. William Donald Schaefer attended the group's first meeting to develop strategies for making the downtown a safer, friendlier place.

Even though the crime rate in downtown Baltimore is low and dropped by 5 percent in the last year, many visitors and suburbanites are frightened by the mounting murder toll, the mayor said. While few murders occur downtown, media accounts of the homicide rate feed the perception that the city is an increasingly dangerous place, downtown boosters point out.

The mayor also spoke about a recent fictionalized episode on the NBC television series "Homicide," in which a tourist from Iowa was killed near Baltimore's ballpark. "It just sent a chilling message because they used real Baltimore streets," he said.

A key element to improving public safety is opening a community police station, probably on Howard Street, as early as next month. The exact location could not be confirmed yesterday.

The Downtown Partnership also is encouraging companies that employ private security agents to use them to help improve public safety.

Security guards work at federal offices, the Baltimore Arena, the University of Maryland's medical complex and many of the private office buildings.

They could share information through a computerized bulletin board and facsimile system, or simply "come out and make themselves visible on the streets at different times of the day," Mr. Schmoke said.

Later yesterday, police spokesman Sam Ringgold said collaborating on security issues would benefit companies, visitors and the police department. Right now, he said, security guards for one firm "will have a problem in their facility but just sort of keep it to themselves instead of talking about it with the security person across the street."

The efforts to improve lighting, tighten security and open a police substation are the latest in a series to polish the image of downtown Baltimore.

About a year ago, the Downtown Partnership hired safety guides and street sweepers to make the city more appealing to tourists and suburbanites.

And this fall, business leaders mounted a drive to outlaw aggressive panhandling. The new city ordinance bars panhandlers from using obscene language, blocking the path of a car or persistently begging for money after having been refused.

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