Probing police weaknesses

Baltimore: Criminals rob more businesses as campaign against homicides depletes patrols.

April 16, 2001

MANY CRIMINALS may be stupid, but they're not blind. They can see that Baltimore's crackdown on homicides has dangerously depleted routine patrols in many districts.

The result is that while killings and assaults have dipped, business-related armed and unarmed robberies have soared in five of the nine police districts.

The worst increase is in the Northeastern District, where such robberies are up 75 percent over the first quarter of last year. Southeastern reported a 56 percent increase, Northern 47 percent, Northwestern 21 percent and Southern 15 percent.

Remarkably, business-related robberies were down 41 percent through March in the Eastern District, which was flooded with additional officers in the crackdown on violence. Central District, another well-patrolled area, recorded a 35 percent dip, Southwestern 9 percent and Western 7 percent.

The citywide 19 percent increase in business-related robberies is alarming because it runs counter to otherwise favorable trends.

Violent crime is down 16 percent over last year's comparable figures, shootings have decreased by 20 percent, robberies overall by 19 percent and rapes by 27 percent, according to police department reports.

It is clear that in selecting hold-up targets, criminals are trying to take advantage of enfeebled patrol coverage in districts that have had officers shifted to duty elsewhere.

Police success in curbing homicides is heartening. But that single-mindedness must not remove attention from the alarming rise in robberies of businesses. Such holdups, after all, are potentially violent encounters.

When things go bad, fatalities follow.

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