Major sports events play into theory of less crime

March 18, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

THE KID WALKED into the Johns Hopkins Hospital emergency room Sunday with his mother on his arm and a gaping wound subdividing the center of his nose east from west.

"Fight?" he was asked.

"Mmmpf," he replied, or words to that effect.

The wound looked about a week old and was slightly jagged. The boy seemed about 19. The wound looked as if someone had hatcheted him, but stopped short on following through the rest of his face. In the emergency room, nobody acted as if they were seeing something unusual.

"On a routine Sunday," said an attendant, "every seat in this place would be filled. You got your street violence, car accidents, your domestic fights. You got people who go to church in the morning and come out and think, 'I don't feel so well. I think I'll go over to the Hopkins emergency room and see what they can find.' They make a day of it."

By quick count, there were 37 seats in the Hopkins emergency room. But at the moment, which was late Sunday afternoon, onlyhalf-a-dozen were taken. A teen-age girl chattered loudly into a telephone about someone named Shawanda, who was apparently having police problems. Two women, waiting for a friend, played hands of gin rummy without noticeable enthusiasm. And one man had two kindergarten-age boys with him, dressed in hooded sweat shirts and coats and overheating by the minute. They each carried a small bag of potato chips and glanced occasionally at one of two television sets in the room, showing the movie "Terms of Endearment" which, for a hospital, is like an airliner showing "Airport."

But the room was subdued for a Sunday. Outside, the East Baltimore streets were pretty deserted. Inside, the attendantsaid, they normally would handle "a couple of hundred cases" on a Sunday in the emergency room. On this particular Sunday?

"Maybe 60," he said.

"How come?"

He pointed to the other television screen in the room and shrugged his shoulders, as if offering a theory but not wishing to marry it. They were playing basketball on the television, in the religious frenzy known as the NCAA tournament. Already, two of the local entries, Maryland and Navy, had gone down to defeat, but soon Coppin State would lift the heart of everyone in the nation who's ever rooted for an underdog. Coppin would do this with a gallant effort falling a single basket short of triumph, which will be recalled when all the other games have faded into a blur.

"Maybe that," the attendant said.

Another attendant said, "Everybody's watching the NCAAs, nobody's on the street. Nobody's on the street, nobody's getting hurt. We see this happen twice a year."

"What's the other time?" he was asked. "Christmas?"

"Nah," he said. "Super Bowl."

Stage the proper amusements, keep the streets safe. It's a simple proposition. At police headquarters yesterday, there were the usual statistics indicating everyone in the city of Baltimore should be locked into our rooms until further notice and forced to watch television until we promise to get into no further trouble.

There were 331 murders in the city last year. There were 1,393 reported robberies, 8,145 aggravated assaults, 641 reported rapes, 14,836 reported burglaries, 11,151 car thefts, 42,043 reported larcenies. Any break for the emergency rooms reflects a break for police, which is a breather for everyone.

"It's an interesting theory," city police spokesman Rob Weinhold said yesterday. "Maybe we should have championship tournaments year 'round. Certainly, events like the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NCAA tournament generally capture people's attention so they're likely to spend more time in front of the TV than on the street." After checking with Baltimore County 911 officials, county police spokesman Bill Toohey said yesterday, "Actually, yes, we were slow yesterday. We didn't get as many calls as we normally get on a Sunday."

Added the city's Weinhold: "It's like when we have a heavy snowstorm. People stay in, crime goes down. The problem is, when it's over, some of the criminals figure it's time to go out and catch up on business."

Does the NCAA tournament take a bite out of crime? On Friday, the police emergency numbers, 911 and 311, took 4,674 calls for help. On Saturday, 4,686 calls. On Sunday, with the action getting increasingly intense and Coppin State rousing local interest, they took only 4,015 calls. It's still a lot, but everything's relative.

Two Sundays ago, there were 4,462 emergency calls to police. On March 9, with the ACC finals being played, there were 4,044 calls, roughly the same as this past Sunday.

"So the answer," Weinhold was musing yesterday, tongue slightly in cheek, "would be to have the NCAAs played all year long. Who knows, maybe Maryland would stay in it a little longer that way."

Pub Date: 3/18/97

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