Taking steps to halve the region's murder rate

June 08, 1999

This is an excerpt of a speech by John Morton III to the annual meeting of the Greater Baltimore Committee, which was held on May 26. Mr. Morton, president of NationsBank Corp.'s Mid-Atlantic Banking Group, is the incoming GBC chairman.

TONIGHT, we embark on our next challenge and that will be to significantly reduce the number of murders and violent crimes committed in our region.

I became even more concerned about the seriousness of the situation after numerous conversations with our directors and many of you. To a person, the high crime rate was consistently identified as the No. 1 problem and always, named as one of the top two.

I also had the opportunity to listen to corporate relocation consultants and numerous public officials, throughout a five-week seminar series arranged for the GBC board by Donald P. Hutchinson, GBC's president. Finally, I reviewed comparative data between our region and other cities with whom we compete on the economic development playing field.

Let me share with you some of the hard facts. Last year's State of the Region Report showed that in terms of the number of violent crimes, the Baltimore region ranked at the very bottom of the 20 regions surveyed.

Violent crime

We also have the fourth-highest murder rate in the country. Additionally, the homicide rate has not significantly declined since 1990, and violent crimes continue at an alarming level. During the past two years alone, there have been 711 murders in the region and nearly 54,000 incidents of violent crime.

One may ask why should the business community care about the number of murders. Very simply, because we have come to realize from experts that violent crime is not just a social issue, but is also a business climate issue. Let me elaborate on this point.

First, perception is as important as reality and these numbers, which are highly visible, detract from our region's competitive advantages and impede economic growth. This view is shared from conversations with Mike Lewin, secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, and Ioanna Morfessis, chief executive officer of the Greater Baltimore Alliance.

Recently, a consultant to the GBA best highlighted this point with the following comment, "The secret to the recent success of New York City is that by successfully projecting an image of being a safe place to do business, it has attracted many new headquarters and improved the retention of existing businesses."

Protecting employees

Second, and also another very compelling business reason to reduce violent crime, is for the safety and well-being of our employees, associates and their families. If you don't think that is important, and I hope you never have the experience, then wait for a violent crime to impact one of your associates; or one day calculate the impact of drugs, the primary driver of violent crimes, on the productivity of your enterprise; or face rejection by a key recruit because of his or her fear for the safety of their family.

Yes, the reduction in violent crime in our region is simply a "good business proposition" for all of us. Because violent crime has reached such epidemic levels here, it needs to be addressed -- not tomorrow but right now. The good news is that other cities, such as New York City and Boston, have successfully reduced violent crime by integrating local, state and federal public safety resources to focus on the problem. These cities serve as models and prove that Baltimore, too, can win the war against violent crime.

Actions that the GBC will implement today to influence the correct choices for our region are:

First, the establishment of a special purpose fund to be raised separately from dues. These contributions will be entirely voluntary and used specifically for non-payroll, crime reduction actions . . . such as, increasing the availability of effective drug addiction and intervention programs, as drugs are involved in nearly three-quarters of the city's murders. Or lobbying for publicly funded solutions suggested by such experts as Harvard University's David Kennedy, who has been working with the Safe and Sound initiative. His program has been very successful in Boston.

The fund could even be used for assistance in the creation of a technological networking system, which identifies known offenders within the region.

Second, we will assign a senior executive from the GBC as the program manager, Don Fry, executive vice president. Don will continue and expand upon the work done by Mindy Mintz of the GBC on the crime issue, and add bench strength to the membership of our Public Safety Committee. I personally will join this committee.

Third, we will initiate discussions with Baltimore's mayoral candidates to persuade them to make crime reduction a top priority for their administration. We will be prepared to offer financial support for well-designed programs from our Special Purpose Fund.

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