Annapolis leaders were unresponsive on crime

having your say

August 27, 2008|By Laura Townsend

A recent Baltimore Sun editorial about crime in Annapolis, crediting a response by government, couldn't be more wrong. Years of apathy by the local government spawned double-digit increases in the most serious categories of crime, despite the fact that Annapolis is largely affluent, with a healthy tax base.

The reality? Serious criminal assaults and murders escalated while the mayor funded flower programs, arts initiatives and even cartoon characters for trash cans. As the drug culture feeding the violence flourished and murders increased drastically, Ellen O. Moyer pooh-poohed the idea that crime needed her attention by questioning what could be done and stating that Annapolis was typical in comparison with other cities.

In September 2007, an alderman lamented that some of his constituents wouldn't go outside their homes. "The citizens are anxious about their safety," Alderman Ross H. Arnett III told The Washington Post. "It's almost like the movie Network. They're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore."

Perhaps some of the frustration was the result of watching a complacent City Council content to debate plastic bags, the Clean Air Act, climate change, the Iraq war, lighthouses, personnel changes at the symphony, tree canopies and apologies for slavery. Perhaps citizens, be they black or white, were more interested in an apology for the murders of residents and the lives of those irrevocably changed on their apathetic watch.

The mayor accused her critics of "trafficking in the politics of fear." But the fear was genuine - and warranted. For several years, Annapolis outpaced major metropolitan areas such as Washington and Baltimore in murders per capita.

When desperate residents looked elsewhere for answers, they came up empty. Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson derided studies showing crime had increased - probably because his boss was issuing statements saying crime was decreasing. He refused to consider tactics such as more foot patrols (long held to be hugely successful), calling them unnecessary.

It's also worth noting that several experts observed that even if crime had decreased, it was still above the national average. What little hope citizens had that help would arrive vanished when they heard the police chief's admission, "We don't have enough eyes and ears to make you safe." Of course, that quote came less than a year after he opined, "The whole criminal justice system is working, from our perspective."

And so it is clear that contrary to The Baltimore Sun's assertion that "citizens spoke out and government responded," government didn't respond until it was under the gun - in this case, the gun of a coming election wielded by an angry electorate. While progress is now being made, it is the result of a new police chief, more state funding, new technologies and a renewed focus and, more important, the voices of thousands of residents who simply had enough and spoke very loudly to politicians concerned about their legacy and the next campaign.

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