GBC aims to halve local murder rate, its new leader says

Announcement to come tonight at naming of Morton as chairman

$200,000 raised to fight drugs

Business against crime

May 26, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Declaring that crime is bad for business, the incoming chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee is to announce tonight that a major goal of the business group will be to halve the region's homicide rate by 2002.

John Morton III, president of NationsBank Corp.'s Mid-Atlantic Banking Group, is to make the announcement when he is named GBC's chairman at the group's annual meeting.

In Baltimore and the surrounding five counties, there were 356 homicide last year. In Baltimore City alone, there were 314 homicides last year and 312 in 1997, making it the fourth deadliest city in the country per capita, behind Gary, Ind., New Orleans and Washington.

A "State of the Region" report by the GBC last year ranked Baltimore the worst in violent crime out of 20 other U.S. cities surveyed -- making it far less attractive to businesses looking to relocate here. "What can the GBC really do? We think the timing is right today for the private sector to weigh in," Morton said in an interview yesterday. "We know drugs are the primary driver of violent crime, and in the area of drug prevention and intervention we can help with the creation and implementation of programs in the public sector."

Morton said the GBC has raised $200,000 for anti-drug programs and he hopes to increase it substantially, although no specific dollar goal has been set.

NationsBank, Bell Atlantic Corp., the Rouse Co. and Allfirst Financial Inc. (formerly First Maryland Bancorp) each donated $50,000 to the anti-drug effort.

Morton, 55, said the GBC hasn't decided which programs to support in its effort to reduce the homicide rate, but it has an eye on the Safe and Sound Campaign to improve children's chances of living safe lives.

The campaign focuses on five areas: family support, including job training; after-school programs; reading skills; organizing community support for young people, and significantly reducing violence among children.

Leaders of the campaign, who are working with Harvard University criminologist David Kennedy, will issue details of its strategies some time in the next several months.

Donald P. Hutchinson, GBC's president, said it would be premature to say the committee will support Safe and Sound before more details are released.

Lawrence Sherman, a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland, College Park, said he's leery of business support for drug-prevention programs because many programs don't work and they are often not focused on high-crime areas.

"Nobody knows how to reduce the homicide rate in Baltimore with any certainty, but some of the things that would help would be to deconcentrate poverty, and that can be done in a number of ways," he said. "One of the most important is to raise the employment rates of neighborhoods instead of individuals."

Job growth in the suburbs does little to help the concentrated crime areas in East and West Baltimore that contribute to the bulk of homicides, he said.

"All efforts [to reduce homicides] should be concentrated; if they're spread out they won't do a thing. Busing people to jobs wherever they are found is a major opportunity for changing the culture of hopelessness. If people have jobs, they have less time on the streets to get into arguments and shoot each other."

As of yesterday, the number of homicides this year is down 24 percent to 94 killings, compared with 123 on same date last year, said Robert W. Weinhold Jr., public affairs director for the Baltimore City Police Department.

Weinhold said the police support the GBC goal. "The department remains optimistic and certainly embraces those business partnerships which are going to assist us in achieving that specific goal," he said.

"Solving the homicide problem, while operationally a police function, in a prevention sense is a societal function. Businesses, along with the faith community, the academic community, community leaders, can all join together in terms of prevention and funding strategies."

Morton, who will begin his term today, replaces Frank P. Bramble, who headed the GBC for three years. Morton received his undergraduate degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and his MBA from Harvard University. He was named to his present position at NationsBank in January 1998 and previously headed the company's private client group in St. Louis.

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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