A lot safer than the suburbs, if you happen to...

DOWNTOWN IS

January 31, 1998

DOWNTOWN IS a lot safer than the suburbs, if you happen to be visiting a bank. Robberies of banks downtown fell nearly 70 percent, from 67 in 1996 to just 21 last year. Conversely, bank robberies in Baltimore County increased about 75 percent, from 74 in 1996 to 129 in 1997.

Central District police Maj. Steven E. McMahon says downtown bank robberies decreased in part because arrests there are up, from 87 in 1996 to 98 last year.

But he said another reason is better communication with police. Monthly meetings are held between downtown businesses and Central District police. There's even a computer Web page -- www.mdbankers.com -- that includes surveillance camera photos of bank robbers.

Whatever is working had better be extended beyond downtown because bank robberies elsewhere are on the way. The city's Northern District saw bank holdups mushroom from six in 1996 to 32 last year. The holdups in the Southeast District jumped more than threefold, from nine to 19.

The aim is to put these guys out of business for good, not simply make them migrate.

SUCH DOUR realities as recession, bank failures and currency devaluations help explain the unusual hand of friendship President Jiang Zemin suddenly extended to much of the world, contradicting previous bullying. Almost simultaneously, China:

Persuaded U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen that it has ceased selling cruise missiles to Iran. This weapons transfer alarmed Washington as a threat to Persian Gulf shipping.

Assured British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, making the first British visit since the 1995 quarrel over Hong Kong, that China would invite the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit. Until now, Beijing has insisted that its jailing of dissidents is nobody's business but its own.

Offered negotiations without preconditions to Taiwan. Contacts between Beijing and the independent province that calls itself the Republic of China were severed in 1995 after Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui visited the United States, which Beijing interpreted as a statement of independence. Since then, offers to resume discussions were contingent on Taipei's swearing to reunification as their goal.

Taipei's response to Beijing's olive branch was skeptical. But Beijing's offer could prove the most important of its accommodations. Taiwan's entrepreneurs are major investors in mainland China. Taiwan is relatively safe from the winds of recession. A friendly Taiwan would be the first place China would turn for help in financial distress.

ACCORDING TO Education Week, the movement in public schools to raise academic standards has yet to produce results that impress employers and institutions of higher learning.

In the latest annual survey, employers and college professors express starkly differing opinions about public schools' success in preparing students for the work place or for higher education.

Slightly more than half the professors surveyed say the freshmen and sophomores they encounter are not solidly grounded in the skills needed to succeed in college, while almost 70 percent of employers find similar problems.

"They can't spell," says a New York employer. "And there are other major flaws in their memos. The tenses are not consistent and all kinds of things are wrong."

Meanwhile, only 26 percent of kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers, 32 percent of parents and 22 percent of high school students have similar concerns.

There is, fortunately, some good news. All groups surveyed -- teachers, students, parents, employers and college professors -- believe that by clearly stating what students are expected to know, schools can improve academic achievement.

Pub Date: 1/31/98

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