Study finds few 'safe' city communities Most reportedly vanished in late '70s, before crack caused crime to surge

April 14, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Most of Baltimore's safe neighborhoods disappeared in the late 1970s, and conditions worsened when the crack cocaine epidemic hit a decade ago and sparked a surge in crime, asserts a new study presented at a conference yesterday.

The findings by Temple University professor Ralph D. Taylor, who is working for a year as a researcher for the National Institute of Justice, show that the city's crime problem began years earlier than previously thought and is rooted in poverty and the loss of industry and city residents.

According to the report, the number of "safe" neighborhoods in terms of robberies dwindled from 54 in the early 1970s to three by 1992. They are Waltherson, off Bel Air Road in Northeast Baltimore; the Orchards, in North Baltimore; and Ednor Gardens, near Memorial Stadium. Measured by the number of assaults -- including shootings -- the safe communities dropped from 84 to six in the same period. Taylor would not name the six.

Lawrence Sherman, chairman of the University of Maryland College Park Department of Criminal Justice, said Taylor's study "is consistent with a growing body of knowledge about the terrible structural forces affecting the inner city. The crack epidemic was a symptom, not a cause."

But Sherman cautioned about labeling safe and unsafe neighborhoods. "It's all a matter of breaking down the data and saying who's safe and where?" he said. "The general concept of what is a safe neighborhood has a lot of problems. Is anyone safe anywhere from anything?"

The study says that many city neighborhoods were already considered unsafe by the time crack cocaine hit the streets in 1986, when the number of homicides, assaults and robberies began to increase sharply.

"The bulk of Baltimore's safe neighborhoods disappeared during the 1970s," said Taylor, who presented his findings at a meeting of East Coast sociologists at the downtown Omni Hotel.

"The '70s were the era of dollar houses, the Schaefer administration, Harbor Place and the revitalizing of downtown," Taylor said. "People have viewed the last decade or so as the time when the bloom has come off the rose. The information here suggests a picture markedly at variance with this view."

Taylor's view that a loss of jobs -- particularly in industry and manufacturing -- has contributed to crime is shared by Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.

At public forums, Frazier has offered his view of the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the steady exodus of the middle-class, which he calls a "recipe for social disorder."

Taylor said that in 1970, 26 percent of jobs in the city were in manufacturing. That number dropped to 18 percent in 1980 and 12 percent in 1990. Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston and Milwaukee and other cities show similar declines, he said.

"The key in my mind is jobs," he said. "The city has lost population because it has lost the jobs in manufacturing and industry that support residents with low to moderate education and skill levels."

Pub Date: 4/14/97

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