Questions about 'safety' of Baltimore neighborhoods all too common

CRIME SCENES

Before venturing into city, visitors seek assurances

December 18, 2009|By Peter Hermann | peter.hermann@baltsun.com

This just in to Crime Scenes:

"My daughter is an athlete in a wheelchair. With minimal opportunities for her to play wheelchair sports in Central Maryland, we were thrilled to find the Metro League at Farring-Baybrook Recreation Center. However, my husband believes I'm taking our lives in our hands by traveling to that section of Baltimore at night.

"Sheltered in Howard County, I am now terrified and guilty that I'm putting my daughter at risk. I've spent time looking on the Internet at Baltimore's crime statistics but am still uncertain whether to allow her to play. How dangerous is that area?"

This is a common question and a difficult one to answer.

Usually, services in the city pale in comparison with those in the suburbs, so it's reassuring to discover something that Baltimore apparently does better than its wealthier and safer neighbors. But time and again, people who might venture into the city to see a play, drink a beer, take a walk, view an art exhibit, shop in a store or take their daughter to a rec center hesitate before making the trip.

The Farring-Baybrook Recreation Center is in South Baltimore's Brooklyn neighborhood, on Farring Court just before the Anne Arundel County line. This woman took her daughter there two years ago and didn't have a problem, but with all the recent chatter about crime, she's thinking twice before returning.

"It is a tiny bit scary," the woman said. (At the behest of her daughter, she didn't want their names divulged.)

Their questions about crime demonstrate a conundrum for city officials who say they have great programs but must often overcome visitors' fears.

Baltimore police in the Southern District said the rec center is in a safe nook of Brooklyn, across from an elementary school and next to a park where an officer teaches children camping and outdoor skills. It's also next to an environmental center, just north of Church Street, where the city line nearly comes to a point in South Baltimore.

"We've never had an incident down there," an officer said. It's well south of Brooklyn's Patapsco Avenue prostitution drag and well away from where a city police officer shot a man who had just shot two people near the district courthouse Monday afternoon on Patapsco. The nearest fatal shootings were about 12 blocks to the east on streets off Pennington Avenue.

Asked whether visitors are safe, Mike Naugle, the city's acting director of recreation for the Department of Recreation and Parks, answered with an example: A woman from western Howard County has brought her daughter for wheelchair basketball and didn't have any problems.

He was referring to the same woman who had contacted Crime Scenes.

"All I can say is that we're in a safe community and that people should take precautions like they would in any community," Naugle said. "The building is lit, and the staff is ready to greet visitors."

Farring-Baybrook, primarily for people with special needs, offers a comprehensive therapeutic recreation program that serves 800 to 1,000 people. It has been closed for about a year for renovations. But Naugle said repairs are nearly complete, and the center is gradually returning to a full schedule - including wheelchair basketball from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays.

"It would be heartbreaking not to take her," the Howard County mother said.

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