Tag: crime

Baltimore Is Going Down, in a Good Way

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You may not have noticed a difference, but Baltimore has been getting safer, at least if judged by the homicide rate.

As of December 23, Baltimore has seen “only” 194 murders this year, so it’s possible that the city will finish the year with fewer than 200, making it our least violent year since at least the 1980s.

City officials would like to take credit for the decline, but Baltimore’s drop is probably better understood as part of a trend we’re seeing across the country. It’s a trend that’s been moving steadily. Baltimore in 2010 saw 223 homicides, at the time the lowest number since 1985.

Breaking News: Shootings at Virginia Tech

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Reports say that two people have been shot on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus:  a police officer and as-yet unidentified victim.

Follow the school’s Collegiate Times newspaper’s Twitter feed for the most up-to-date information.

Has the City Given up on Waverly?

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This Halloween gave Greenmont Avenue its fifth fatal shooting since March 2009. That’s four at Yau Brothers carryout and one at a gas station. According to an article in The Sun, business owners are divided in their opinions of who’s to blame and what can be done.

Casey Jenkins, owner of the restaurant Darker Than Blue, is fed up with the violent crime on Greenmount, and blames what he sees as the city giving up on the neighborhood for the stagnant situation.

David Stahl, owner of Pete’s Grille, “worries” about the neighborhood’s reputation and the effect that might eventually have on business, but blames a lack of resources, not interest, on the part of the city.

After the Halloween killing, Police Maj. Sabrina V. Tapp-Harper has assigned a one-officer foot patrol to Greenmount Avenue. But she says, “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to make it last.”

Innovative Research Teams Give Baltimore Addicts Smartphones

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Thanks to shows like The Wire, Baltimore has earned a reputation as a city of boarded up houses, shell casings, police tape, and discarded needles. And several researchers think that an environment with visible evidence of violence or drug use might make things harder on addicts — so they’re giving drug users smartphones to gain a better understanding of how the city works.

Dr. Debra Furr-Holden heads up the Drug Investigations, Violence and Environmental Studies lab at Hopkins; she also leads a group of researchers who explore every block of East Baltimore, creating a map of all the abandoned houses, makeshift memorials, and visible evidence of drug use. The idea is that some places by their very look or feel might make addicts more likely to relapse.

In a similar project, Dr. Kensie Preston of the NIH gives addicts smartphones with a program that helps users track when they crave drugs, when they resist those cravings, and when they give in. The phones also have a GPS logger; as NPR notes, “That means Epstein and his colleagues can follow on a map as an addict is sober for weeks, but one day after visiting a particular house or block, that person breaks down and relapses.”

Savvy Hopkins Student Helps Catch Serial Burglar

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Johns Hopkins security officers offer weekly walks through the Charles Village area in order to help keep students connected to the community, and aware of potential threats in their own neighborhoods. Usually, it’s a pretty tame event. This week, though, it was anything but, thanks to a savvy student who “triggered a police manhunt and was responsible for the arrest of a wanted criminal,” according to the Johns Hopkins Gazette.

Christina Warner, a Johns Hopkins senior majoring in the Writing Seminars (woot!) noticed someone skulking around on the roof near Guilford Avenue and 30th Street. The director of Homewood Campus Safety and Security, Ed Skrodzki, had just mentioned that there had been quite a few second- and third-floor break-ins over the past few months. Putting her writerly deductive powers to use, Warner pointed the suspicious figure out. Shortly thereafter Baltimore Police intervened, and the burglar — who turned out to be wanted from a late-September break-in — was caught.

Must be nice for Warner to know that if a lucrative writing career doesn’t pan out, she’ll always have a future in law enforcement.

Does Baltimore Need a Youth Jail?

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As cash-strapped as Baltimore City is, it’s found the means to start constructing a new multi-million dollar jail, specifically intended to house youths charged as adults… and activists city-wide think that sounds like a mis-use of funds.

Those in favor of the jail point out that the current system houses youths alongside adults, and that this new jail is intended to improve living conditions for these kids.

Critics point out that the jail isn’t needed, and that the government is basing its claims on flawed data — for example, in 2007 the Department of Public Safety projected that they’d need 178 beds to house young inmates by 2010; in actuality, only 92 are there. Flawed stats mean that the case for the jail is weakened. Consider also that the past eight years have seen a steady decline in youth arrests, and that more than two-thirds of the kids who do end up being charged as adults don’t make it into the normal jail population (either because they’re released on bail, have their cases dismissed, or are sent to the juvenile system). “The Governor should not invest millions of dollars in a jail that will be over half empty,” they proclaim.

Hundreds of people protested the jail’s construction on Tuesday. City Councilmembers Mary Pat Clarke and Jack Young have come out in favor of stopping proceedings on the jail to focus instead on “more effective and less costly alternatives to pre-trial detention.”  O’Malley has agreed to suspend construction for the time being, but the project is still slated to move forward.

Believe in the Crime Cameras

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A four-year study of police surveillance cameras in Baltimore, Chicago, and DC released yesterday found that the technology has been working, at least in Baltimore, reducing crime to the point of noticeable savings in taxpayer dollars.

Despite the apparent success of the program, I wonder about the long-term effects of abundant police surveillance on these neighborhoods. In the short run it deters crime on certain blocks, but won’t it also deter people from moving into those places? Sure, the cameras may beat back a certain number of shootings and robberies, but are they turning these neighborhoods around?

Whatever the answers to these questions, it looks like the cameras are here to stay, at least for now.

Until It’s Zero: Underreported Rapes at Hopkins?

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From 2007 to 2009, JHU reported ZERO incidents of sexual assault or rape. While we would love for this to be the case, we know it’s not.

So proclaims the recently-launched Until It’s Zero project, a blog that declares itself “a space devoted to giving survivors of sexual violence an outlet until such a time as the incidence of sexual assault and rape truly is zero.” The blog features stories of assault, rape, gray-area situations, and harassment, written by anonymous Hopkins students — mostly women, but a few men as well.

As the blog’s moderators note, it’s notoriously tricky to get accurate statistics about rape/sexual assault, but some experts estimate that 1 in 4 college women has experienced some form of sexual assault in her lifetime. But a host of factors — from guilt to fear of social stigma to dismissive authority figures — means that many survivors decline to file official reports. A positive-seeming statistic — like Hopkins’ claim of no rapes or sexual assaults reported since 2007 — can actually mask a culture of shame. Over half the rapes committed on college campuses are never reported to police, the blog points out.

So far, the blog features a couple dozen stories from survivors, some set in Hopkins dorms and frat houses, others of which pre-date the writer’s time at the school. And all are heartbreaking to read: “I was 11 years old.  I was in CTY.” “The detective assigned to the case told me he only had time for ‘real rapes.'” It’s a harrowing collection of stories, many of which start out innocently — with a date, a party, a night out with friends.

Kudos to the Hopkins Feminist Alliance and Sexual Assault Response Unit for opening up the discussion. Let’s hope that someday soon that “zero” statistic does reflect campus reality.

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