Drop in street crime credited to cameras

City partnership reports 25% decline in 3 areas

March 18, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The presence of video cameras in downtown Baltimore has been more effective than expected in reducing crime, according to the Downtown Partnership's score card released yesterday.

The partnership for the first time used its score card to document crime statistics.

Cameras fixed by the partnership at three downtown locations recorded 25 percent fewer crimes in 2002 than in 2001, the most current numbers available.

That reduction is nearly twice the 13 percent reduction that the Baltimore police department reported in crime across the city for the same period, and well above the 15 percent that the partnership had projected.

"I think it proves that the system is a great deterrent," said Tom Yeager, the partnership's executive vice president for clean and safe programs. "It affects both the perception of crime and the reality of crime."

The group's first score card, released in June, showed that the partnership had exceeded goals it set in gaining more parking spaces and housing units, and improving the appearance of the city's central business district, but fell short in street repairs.

Now the organization is setting higher goals, said Michele L. Whelley, president of the Downtown Partnership. The parking category will be eliminated because the "parking crisis" seems to have been resolved, she said, and a new category will be added - business retention.

Although the crime rate in areas covered by video cameras was tracked in an informal way, the organization never had firm statistics on which to rely, Whelley said.

"We always felt comfortable that crime downtown is virtually nonexistent in relationship to crime in the city," she said. "If you tell someone we've got a camera on you, they'll hopefully think twice about breaking into a car."

The organization has 16 cameras at each of four city locations. Another set of 16 will be trained on the area near the Hippodrome within a couple of weeks, and a sixth set will be activated in Market Place by summer, according to Yeager.

Just three sets of the cameras, which businesses help finance, were operational for all of 2002, he said.

Those cameras operate on Howard Street, Park Avenue and Charles Street. A fourth set, in the financial district overlooking Gay Street to Calvert Street and Baltimore Street to Lombard Street, operated for part of the year.

The cameras are on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but are not monitored. Installed in 1994, their recordings are available for viewing should a crime be reported in their coverage area.

"We've got something new to benchmark our success at keeping downtown safe," said Michael Evitts, a spokesman for the Downtown Partnership. "This is one of our key programs and something we wanted to quantify."

The organization has raised its goal on such things as the number of faM-gade improvements and the amount of streetscaping.

Crime reduction and success with face-lifts throughout downtown are not unrelated, Downtown Partnership officials say.

"The perception of safety allows those other things to happen," Evitts said.

"People aren't going to come to an area they think is unsafe," he said. "They aren't going to invest money in an area they think is dirty or dangerous."

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