As word hit the streets yesterday that violent crime in the city has dropped by nearly 10 percent, Baltimoreans reacted with joy, hope, disbelief and outright cynicism.
The decline was the first major one since the introduction of crack cocaine into Baltimore a decade ago. For some, the news confirmed what they sensed, what they had been seeing on the streets in front of their homes and businesses: less drug dealing, increased police patrols, more citizens willing to get involved.
"I just feel safe," said Bolton Hill resident John B. White, a hairdresser at Giovanna salon in Mount Washington. "I see police all over, and I see fewer drug dealers."
But in some parts of the city, still beset by shootings, robberies and assaults, many of them byproducts of the drug trade, no newspaper headline could convince people that their neighborhood was a safer place to live.
"It's a sham," said Joseph Ward of Hunting Ridge in West Baltimore.
According to the statistics released Tuesday by the Baltimore Police Department, crime in the first nine months of 1996 decreased in almost every category except homicide, which increased by 8 percent, and auto theft, which rose 2 percent. Overall, major crime fell 7 percent, violent crime decreased 9.6 percent, and property crime dropped 6.2 percent.
Police are encouraged, although homicides are still a concern. The homicide rate was unusually high the first few months of the year but has stabilized. At one point early in the year, there had been 26 more homicides than at the same time in 1995. Now, the figure is 11, with less than a month to go.
In terms of homicide, the Eastern District is the most dangerous, with 58. The Southeastern District, which encompasses Fells Point and Highland town, has had the fewest, 16.
The Central District, which includes downtown, recorded the most robberies, 1,360. Car thieves were most active in the Northeastern District, with 1,586 thefts reported. The Northern District, home to some of the city's most affluent neighborhoods, had the most burglaries, 1,906.
What follows are residents' impressions of crime and crime-fighting in their neighborhoods.
"I see myself walking more places than I used to," said White, the hairdresser. "The neighborhoods are turning around, and the neighborhood patrol is out. That's helped," he said.
At the Village of Cross Keys, Baltimore's first gated community, Elaine Beck and Claire Loecher -- retirees doing their shopping -- were glad to hear the news.
"We go to the symphony and the opera, and I don't want it to be impossible to feel comfortable doing these things," said Loecher, a former teacher at Friends School.
But not all those interviewed in North Baltimore yesterday said they believed crime had gone down.
At the Baltimore Zoo, Fred Redel said he felt safe working at the admission booth. But in his Belair-Edison neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore, he said, "there's something always going on. Cars being broken into, kids hanging around the corner."
"To me, crime hasn't gone down," he said. "I think they're kidding themselves if they think it has."
At the Waverly branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Rosemary Anderson, a private-duty nurse, said she was surprised to hear that the crime rate had gone down.
"From what I see and hear, it should be at least at the same level," she said, noting that she reads The Sun's crime blotter carefully for muggings and other crimes in Govans, where she lives.
An informal survey of residents and business owners in West Baltimore found widespread disbelief about the dip in violent crime.
"Burglary is down here because we have a citizens patrol in the community. It's not because of anything the police did," said Ward of Hunting Ridge.
"If you have a big dog, you're safe; otherwise, forget it," said the owner of Brutus, a Rottweiler.
Two blocks east of Ward's home, violent crime is frequently a topic of conversation at the Village Hair and Beauty Center in the Edmondson Village Shopping Center. To deter crime, "we work irregular hours," said Diane Addison, who has owned the shop for 12 years.
Addison said she does not feel safe in the neighborhood.
"If I could move my shop somewhere else -- where it was safe -- and have the same clientele, I would move," she said.
A few doors down, two-time armed robbery victim Kevin Richard, 33, said he thinks crime appears to have declined because fewer victims are reporting crimes to police.
"Most guys don't call the police if they're robbed. They don't have any faith in the criminal justice system," said the Uplands Apartments maintenance worker.
"Crime isn't down," he said. "If anything, it's worse because everybody's on drugs, nobody's working, so they have to rob and steal to get the drugs."