Baltimoreans overwhelmingly believe that crime is the most important challenge facing the city and that crime is damaging the city's economy, according to a new poll conducted for The Sun.
The poll by the independent firm OpinionWorks of Annapolis suggests that fear of crime has pervaded the entire city. More than one in four residents say they've considered moving out because of crime, and almost half say crime has prompted them to change something in their daily lives.
"We do not go out after sunset because of all the shootings in our area," said Gary G. Steffe, a 60-year-old Brooklyn resident.
Anna Mosley, an 85-year-old who has lived in Gwynn Oak since 1964 said, "I can't sit on my own front porch anymore because crime is so bad on my street."
The city is on pace to surpass 300 homicides by year's end for the first time since the 1990s. Nonfatal shootings are up, too, about 35 percent over the same period last year.
Yet when it comes to residents' experiences, only slightly more than half of those likely voters polled join Steffe and Mosley in identifying crime as a serious problem in their own neighborhoods. About four in 10 people say they or someone they know has been a victim of violent crime.
The city seems "obsessed" with crime, said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks. He pointed to a "worry factor that's 20 percent higher than the experience factor."
Still, Baltimore's homicide rate last year was higher than all of the nation's other largest cities, with the exception of Detroit, according to FBI crime statistics released in June.
"That right there is enough to make you want to leave," said Mark J. Brown, 42, who called crime in his West Baltimore neighborhood a "very serious" problem.
Despite the surge in shootings and homicides, Police Department data show drops in other categories -- for example, robberies are down 34 percent -- and an overall 17 percent decrease in violent crime this year.
"There's virtually no connection between actual experience of crime and fear of crime," said Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist who studies local politics and the city's neighborhoods.
The poll of 601 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted July 8 to July 10 and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
The first question of the poll was, "What, in your opinion, is the most important issue or challenge facing the City of Baltimore today -- I mean the one you would most like to see the Mayor and City Council do something about?"
It was an open-ended question, with no suggestions provided. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents gave the same answer: crime. And for those who didn't pick crime first, many picked it second. Altogether, 86 percent of respondents picked crime as one of Baltimore's top two challenges.
Education was the second most important issue identified in the poll, but it was a distant second, mentioned by 16 percent of respondents.
Raabe said that two-thirds of a population giving the same answer was "off the charts." Typically, in other parts of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, he said, no more than half of the people will give the same answer to such a question -- and then it's usually something such as traffic or education.
Catherine Haddon, a 65-year-old Otterbein resident, said she feels "very safe" in her community. But, she recalls the problems that her relatives had when they lived in Northeast Baltimore near Loch Raven Boulevard and Northern Parkway. Her sister left for Towson years ago, after experiencing a string of purse snatchings and other crimes and hearing about shootings nearby.
Because of those different experiences, Haddon said, "I don't have a perception that Baltimore is safe overall."
When asked whether police, the mayor or the City Council is responsible for solving the crime problem, half of the respondents volunteered that all three need to work together. However, when it comes to Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm, only one in four believe he's doing an effective job.
Between regions of the city, differences emerge in the perceived severity of the crime problem.
About four in 10 people in waterfront and downtown City Council districts thought crime was a "very serious" problem in their neighborhoods.
But in the two parts of town struggling the most with homicides and shootings -- East and West Baltimore -- just 21 and 24 percent, respectively, called crime a serious issue in their neighborhoods.
Brown says crime has impinged on what would otherwise be the nice, quiet neighborhood of Irvington. Recently, he said, two men on bicycles rode down the street shooting at each other.
Another problem, he said, is that thieves know to target his street of mostly homeowners. The lifelong Baltimore resident said he now thinks about leaving "every day."
Virtually the same number of black residents and white residents -- about 27 percent -- said they have thought about moving out of the city because of crime.