Survey Gives Police High Marks

Crime Victims Say City Officers Do A Good Job, But Note Shortcomings

April 20, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Last year, Baltimore police decided to pursue a potentially wince-inducing task: asking victims of crime if they thought the department was doing a good job.

The results may surprise some: A majority of crime victims - 63 percent - were satisfied with the police response to their emergency calls. But most were frustrated with the follow-up, and nearly half said they plan to move out of their neighborhood in the near future, according to results of a survey conducted by the Baltimore Police Department.

Police and community members began administering the 20-question survey, developed by chief of patrol Col. John Skinner and Towson University sociologist Christine Eith, by phone from police headquarters last May. Recent crime victims are quizzed on a number of topics, including how long it took the first officer to respond and whether they feel safe at night.

The survey has already produced some changes to how police conduct follow-up investigations. Starting Feb. 1, the responsibility for contacting burglary victims shifted from the detective units, burdened with violent crime investigations, to patrol officers who are in the field every day. Also, officers now hand out booklets with security tips to burglary victims.

"Where it seems we fall off is that follow-up mechanism, where police should be recontacting the victim, getting more information," Skinner said. "We know that's where we really need to target our efforts."

Sheryl Goldstein, director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, said administering the survey shows that police are "serious about engaging the community and getting feedback." She said the results were encouraging, given that the survey participants were crime victims.

Victims of burglaries and robberies were called because many city residents are affected by those crimes, Skinner said.

"It doesn't matter where you live, what your background is, or how old you are," Skinner said. "If your house is broken into, or if you're robbed on the street, it can really change your perception of your neighborhood."

Most victims - 55 percent - said they had lived in their community for five years or less, and 48 percent said they planned to move out in the near future, though the survey did not ask if that was because of crime.

"Being a crime victim is a difficult and traumatic experience. But we are working hard at all levels to improve public safety and are seeing results," Goldstein said, noting that crime is down 10 percent from last year.

In general, the survey gave police high marks, which was surprising to some.

"You tend to hear the anecdotal bad stuff, mostly, and police generally feel unappreciated," said Jerry "Buz" Buznuk, a retired city police captain who runs a private security consulting business.

On a recent weeknight, the presidents of several community associations sat down with a list of questions and a stack of reports detailing recent burglaries and robberies from the Central District, which includes the downtown area and the Upton, Mount Vernon, Seton Hill and Bolton Hill neighborhoods.

One robbery victim, an 18-year-old man, had been punched in the face in the 300 block of Water St. and had his iPhone and Colorado Rockies baseball cap stolen. Police responded quickly, broadcasting a lookout for the three suspects, who were detained a few blocks away. The victim praised police for their response and apprehension of the suspects, as well as the follow-up investigation.

But overall, he said, he was "very dissatisfied" with his experience. The reason? The victim said the officer failed to show up in court, and the charges were dropped.

(Court records show that the charges have not been dropped and that the suspects are awaiting a May court trial.)

Another victim, a 30-year-old woman who lived in the 1400 block of Mount Royal Ave., had her home burglarized after thieves entered through a kitchen window. A DVD player, a grill, a cell phone and a gold watch were stolen.

"She said patrol had a great response, but the crime lab never came out," said Charlene Bourne, president of the Eastern District's Community Relations Council. "Even though patrol came out and did their job, the next person in line didn't follow through. Instead of a clean slate, the department gets a black eye."

Christopher Taylor, president of the Union Square Association, had heard similar stories.

"Nobody I talked to has been contacted" since the incident, he said. "But they also don't seem to care. They seem to have a 'What else could they have done?' attitude."

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