Readers unleash views on city crime

This Just In...

April 02, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

Last Wednesday's column, about the corporate executive and his wife who, though primed to buy a house and move into downtown Baltimore, dropped the idea after being robbed at gunpot in Federal Hill, provoked strong gusts of words from readers.

A veteran journalist in this town said he was disappointed that I had chosen to report such gloom. A classified advertising executive of The Sun chastised me for being anti-Baltimore. An anonymous caller condemned me for not reporting the race of the robbers and for not suggesting that they be shot on sight. A man with a house for sale in Baltimore County asked that I pass along his listing to the couple, in case they were interested in buying. And a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore asked me to pass along her resume to the corporate exec, in case he was interested in hiring.

But the most important response came from Southern District police, who reported this week that they had arrested two prime suspects, one of them a 12-year-old boy with a toy handgun, in a series of five armed robberies - three in Federal Hill and two in Otterbein - that occurred between Saturday, March 22, and Wednesday, March 26. The couple whose experience I detailed in this space last week had been robbed by two young men Friday, March 21. A Southern District lieutenant tells me there could be a link between that robbery and the suspects arrested over the weekend.

The 12-year-old was charged as a juvenile. His alleged accomplice, 17, was charged as an adult and is being held on $150,000 bail. Police are seeking other suspects in the robberies.

The Southern District put together a "hot spot team," with plainclothes officers deployed in a heavy concentration throughout the two neighborhoods, to break the run of street holdups. Until recently, the north end of the Southern had been enjoying an 18 percent decrease in major crimes through the first three months of 1997, said Lt. Berry Baker. And overall, crime in the district dropped 10 percent in 1996. "The perception of crime is worse than the reality," he said.

And, to hear most readers tell it, I only made matters worse by reporting on one unfortunate couple's "perception" of Baltimore's crime problem.

How could I have been so unfair? Maybe because I've heard way too many stories about crime in the city. Maybe the latest census news about people fleeing the city skews my vision. Maybe it's because my family had been in Federal Hill Park just two hours before that couple was held up March 21. Maybe it's because I'm a Baltimore homeowner and I want to see this city saved, and all City Hall seems to do - pardon me if this "perception" is inaccurate - is shrug.

Anyway, here are other responses to the couple's story:

Refuse to be intimidated

Stanton Collins said he and his wife moved to the city five years ago to take advantage of its amenities - in particular, our restaurants, theaters, museums and professional sports teams. They live in Federal Hill, just a couple of blocks from where the couple was held up.

"Perhaps we have been lucky not to have experienced what the couple did and while we have been victims of crime, it was not serious," Collins wrote. "We realize that something unexpected can happen to us, too. I do not know how we would react if we did. Right now, though, we refuse to allow ourselves to be intimidated by the evil elements that we know may be close by. I Risk can be reduced by staying indoors and never going to places of potential danger. We have decided not to live that way.

"Our old friends who live in the suburbs cannot understand why we moved to the city. They believe we are crazy, and we may be unusual. I don't think so, though, when I look across the street to 44 new townhouses that were built, sold and occupied within a year and a half."

'Land of pleasant living'

Saul Levickas, happily retired and living in a Mount Vernon condominium, was also bullish on Baltimore's amenities. "The train station is two blocks away with good connections to New York or BWI, allowing for easy international travel," he wrote. "I can drive four miles and be on my boat, enjoying the land of pleasant living. When I walk out the front door with friends, they remark that we could be in a European city. The social life is great; we can go to the theater just down the street, or to a club or gallery, although the city keeps closing down my favorite club, the Deadeye Saloon."

Not a guide for moving

In the same column, three police officers were reported to have advised the couple not to buy a city home. This was the talk of the department's command staff the morning the column appeared. It also provoked one of the officers' street colleagues to write:

"In the 15 years I have lived in Mondawmin, I am still the newest resident on my side of the block. I As a patrol officer, I know many streets that have had nary a 911 call in the 16-plus years I have worked them. I know neighborhoods that shine in their civility. I am sure many of your readers, too, would recommend their own neighborhoods. I hate to see one couple give up because of the comments of any city worker. Remember, city employees have been sorely burned - promised raises have been cut, politicians have abandoned them. We are overworked, underpaid and largely ignored. Our frustration should never be a guide to moving - not to the city, not to the county."

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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