Mayoral candidates say little about crime during campaign

Candidates' ideas include a bullet tax and an audit of crime stats

July 31, 2011|By Julie Scharper and Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Ella Bailey and her two grandsons hurried down a strip mall sidewalk on a recent sultry summer morning, sipping bottles of pineapple soda.

The three passed by a dark swirl on the sidewalk, a bloody reminder that a delivery man was fatally shot at this Northeast Baltimore shopping center less than a month ago. A gouge in the parking lot marks the spot where a bullet ricocheted, shopping center employees say.

"All day, all you hear is ambulances and police cars, ambulances and police cars. Somebody got hurt. Somebody got killed," said Bailey, 48, who lives a few blocks away in the Belair-Edison neighborhood. "To me, it's real bad. We're not really safe anywhere."

While Baltimore's homicide rate has declined in recent years, the city remains among the most violent in the country.

Yet, while residents say they are concerned for their safety, those vying to be the city's next mayor have said little about crime during their campaigns. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and her challengers all say they support the city's current crime-fighting strategy, which was implemented in 2007 under then-Mayor Sheila Dixon amid surging violence that served as the focal point of that year's election.

Political analysts said they are surprised that Rawlings-Blake's challengers have not pounced on the issue and the string of police department scandals over the past year.

"It strikes me as a bit strange that the state of the police department has not become an issue," said Matthew Crenson, political science professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University. He said the recession has drawn politicians' attention from crime to economic issues, such as Baltimore's high property tax rates and lack of jobs.

While they seem to agree on the larger crime-fighting strategy, there are some differences among the candidates.

While Rawlings-Blake has pledged to hire 300 police officers and to increase the use of crime cameras, her challengers advocate preventing crime by bolstering recreation centers and youth jobs — programs Rawlings-Blake has trimmed.

Former city planning director Otis Rolley presented a series of unorthodox ideas — including a $1 tax on bullets and reduced penalties for marijuana possession — at a town hall meeting this month. He has pledged to create incentives for businesses to hire ex-offenders and work with churches to create crime prevention programs.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh has called for an audit of police statistics, saying she doesn't "have any confidence that we are reporting our numbers correctly" and has vowed to restructure the Police Department. She said she would appoint an independent inspector general to root out corruption.

Former Realtor Joseph T. "Jody" Landers said he would make it easier for addicts to receive treatment, including making methadone and bupenorphine more readily available.

Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr. said that the city needs to create more blue-collar jobs to keep people from crime. He said he wants to increase the size of the Howard Street rail tunnel to increase jobs for stevedores and truck drivers.

"They don't commit crimes out of malice," said Conaway. "They do so out of frustration and despair. We have to find a way to put them back to work."

Landers, Pugh and Rolley have questioned Rawlings-Blake's pledge to hire more officers, a plan that essentially fills open positions.

"We don't need more cops. We need screened, well-trained, reasonably-compensated police," said Rolley.

But Rawlings-Blake said residents want to see more officers. "At community association meetings, I've never heard people say ever that we need fewer police officers on the street," she said.

Three of the challengers have also said they would fight the state's decision to build a $104 million juvenile jail in East Baltimore, a plan that Rawlings-Blake supports.

"I think it is a tremendous waste of money," said Landers. "When we [incarcerate young people], we're creating a permanent underclass. People are locked in and they can't envision a better future for themselves."

Rawlings-Blake walked through this same Belair-Edison shopping center in January 2010, weeks before assuming the mayor's office after Sheila Dixon's resignation. On a recent morning, a homicide detective stepped into the small shops, asking employees about the fatal shooting of Chong Wan Yim, who was killed in a robbery attempt as he delivered sodas.

Residents here say their lives are marked by fear and violence. Lingering outside a discount grocery store, they ask one another about gun shots that echoed on a recent evening. Young gang members often fire shots to intimidate rivals, they say.

Henry Young, 43, hitches up his shirt to show a smattering of pink scars — relics of a 2009 stabbing, he said.

Young, who says he served four years in prison for selling drugs and assaulting another man in a prison fight, said his record makes it nearly impossible for him to find steady employment.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.