This might come as scant surprise to some, but there seems to be far less enthusiasm for an audit of Baltimore's violent crime statistics in some struggling city neighborhoods than there is in political circles and on the campaign trail.
It's not so much that community leaders regard the numbers as sacred. More important, they question how an examination - which Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said last night he would support if it was independent and statewide - is going to make their neighborhoods safer.
"What do they think it's going to accomplish?" asked Jean Yarborough, longtime president of the Park Heights Networking Community Council. "We should spend that money on more police cameras."
Robert Hunt, president of the Rosemont Neighborhood Improvement Association in Southwest, said the political tempest over the accuracy of the numbers is bunk.
"Because it's politics," he said. "If it weren't for that, we wouldn't have the debate."
Robert Nowlin, vice president of the Pen Lucy Community Association and a warrior for years in his Northeast Baltimore neighborhood's battle against drugs and crime, said the issue of exactly how much crime has decreased in the city is "irrelevant" - but he grudgingly acknowledges a value to having someone examine the books.
"I'd just as soon have [an audit] to put it to rest," he said. "Get it over with and stop this talking back and forth with one another."
The issue came to the fore this month with an article in The Sun about some crime experts questioning Mayor Martin O'Malley's claim that the city's violent crime rate had declined by nearly 40 percent during his tenure. Their beef: The claim was based on comparisons between audited figures from 1999, which resulted in an increase in the number of incidents, and unaudited figures from 2004. Comparing unaudited figures from 1999 to those from 2004, the reduction would be 23.5 percent.
In the meantime, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s Office of Crime Control and Prevention is funding a study of crime statistics in the city and four counties. And Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan - O'Malley's rival for the Democratic nomination for governor - quickly pounced on the issue.
The question of the number of incidents of violent crime is only being raised because the most drastic crime statistic - the number of homicides - has remained persistently high.
It's reminiscent of claims the administration of O'Malley's predecessor, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, made in the late 1990s about the sharp decline of shootings in the face of homicide numbers that remained maddeningly high - the kind of claim that led then-Councilman O'Malley to question the figures.
Still, the notion that O'Malley manipulated the 1999 figures to make himself look good seems preposterous. The reason is that seven years ago, O'Malley seemed to truly believe - to use his adminstration's favorite word - that he could make good on his campaign pledge to cut the number of homicides per year to 175.
It's easy, of course, to play games with those more hard-and-fast homicide numbers, too.
O'Malley's campaign notes that during his tenure, the city has averaged 264 homicides a year, an 18 percent drop from the 320-a-year average of the 1990s. But homicides were already dropping from their staggering 1993 peak of 353 when O'Malley was sworn in as mayor in December 1999. Compared to 1999's figure of 305 homicides, the 264 average represents a 13.4 percent drop.
Compare 1999's figure of 305 with last year's figure of 269, and the decline is only 11.8 percent. And during the first three years of O'Malley's tenure, homicides averaged 257 a year, compared to 271 during his last three years as mayor. That's an increase of 5 percent.
That's also the kind of discussion the admittedly small, random and, yes, unaudited sample of community leaders find so unproductive. They're positive but not Pollyanna-ish about the direction of crime in their neighborhoods. They say more needs to be done - not just about violent crime but about drug-dealing and property crimes that are important to their quality of life.
"There's been a tremendous change in this community, audit or no audit," declares Nowlin of Pen Lucy, a neighborhood that includes part of the once-notorious Old York Road corridor. "There are fewer shootings, fewer assaults, fewer of everything. But it's still at a very alarming rate."
Rosemont's Hunt said he sees fewer people on the street corners, but "changes are slow."
"I'd give it a C-type rating," he says of the city's crime control efforts.
And Park Heights' Yarborough says: "Overall, I do see an improvement." But she says she can "see right straight" from her house to the scene of one of the city's 40 killings so far this year as of yesterday morning, compared to 44 at the same point last year.
Yarborough has two key questions, neither of them having to do with statistics.
"Are you safe in your home?" she asks. "Are you safe when you walk out the door?"
"I feel safe in my home," she says. "Walking, I wouldn't want to do."