There’s no escaping the headlines, is there? Watch any of the local network news stations at 6 or 11 and the lead stories are always about shootings and other violence in the city. If that’s all you know about Baltimore, it’s no wonder you’ll be reluctant to move your family or business here.
Crime isn’t just hurtful to the families and businesses that are directly affected by it. It’s a major impediment to economic development and growth. It’s a vicious, violent cycle. Chronic, high unemployment and long-term, widespread poverty are the root causes of the crime and other social ills that plague the city. Crime and poor public education drive people from the city. De-population and a weak and long-neglected economy deplete the city’s property tax and income tax revenues. And an uninspired, nearsighted city government cuts back programs, reduces public employee benefits and compensation, sells income-producing city assets and postpones critically need maintenance and repairs of infrastructure. And all that cutting back just makes matters worse.
Between the crime and a government without the revenues to maintain and improve essential services, there’s nothing to encourage population and economic growth. Social and economic problems fester and so on. It’s a downward cycle that we need to reverse while we still can.
In no small way, part of that process – the process of igniting economic recovery – is making sure the voters and candidates for elected office in our city fully appreciate the extent of the crime wave we’re experiencing. If the numbers we’re about to discuss don’t motivate them, don’t motivate you to focus on economic recovery, nothing will.
So, exactly how bad is it?
In order to standardize crime reporting around the country, the FBI has created two major categories of crime. “Part I” is victim-based crimes. These are the crimes in the table. “Part II” crimes are less serious in that they do not involve physical threats of violence or actual violence to a victim. Forgery, fraud, embezzlement and possession of stolen property, for example, are Part II crimes. There are victims, but none of them were physically threatened or injured during the commission of the crime.
As you can see in the table above, there are 15 of these Part I crimes. This is serious crime that we’re talking about. And it would be bad enough if there was just a handful of them. Even a single crime is one too many. Unfortunately, there were 46,081 of these Part I, victim-based crimes in Baltimore in the past 12 months through July 31 of this year. That’s an average of 3,840 Part I crimes per month, 126 per day. More importantly, there has been one of these serious crimes in the past 12 months for every 13.5 people who live here, children and the elderly included.
The simple math of that last number suggests that, if you live in Baltimore, your chances of being a victim of one of the 15 Part I crimes is 1 in 13.5 or 7.4%. That’s the overall, simple average. As if 7.4% weren’t scary enough, in some neighborhoods, the odds are much, much higher.
So maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “Sure, that’s a huge number of crimes, but it’s probably typical for a large city.” Unfortunately, it’s not. In a 2015 Forbes study based on FBI crime data, Baltimore was listed by Forbes as one of the top 15 cities in the United States for violent crime with an index of 3. That 3 is a percentage. It indicates that 97% of American cities are safer places to live and work. Is it any wonder why it’s so difficult to attract people and businesses back to Baltimore?
Of the total 46,081 crimes showing in our table, roughly 72% of them are forms of theft. These are crimes that are intended either to obtain something the thief needs or that he can sell for money to buy what he needs. Regrettably, stealing is what some people do because they can’t or don’t believe they can make enough money through legal employment. There just aren’t enough jobs and too many people who are working aren’t earning nearly enough to support their families. Honestly, it’s a tribute the moral strength and integrity of our disadvantaged families that the levels of crime we’re experiencing are not even higher.
Not only is the sheer number of these crimes overwhelming, they’re happening all over the city. If you go back to the home screen on this website and mouse-over the “Crime” menu button, you’ll see a list of 15 crime maps, one for each of the Part I victim-based crimes. Notice where these crimes are occurring. Zoom in to see the street names and the neighborhoods where you live and work. Even if you’ve lived in Baltimore for some time, the widespread incidence of crime is still surprising.
The maps are visually disturbing, of course, but only in a distant, academic way that doesn’t come close to describing a problem so personally devastating to the victims and their families. Crime is nothing if not personal. Maps just don’t do the problem justice. Suffice it to say that, while it’s true that shootings and homicides tend to be concentrated in predominantly Black neighborhoods throughout the city, other crimes – larceny, for example – are all over the place.
If you’re interested in the extent of crime occurring in the vicinity of your current home or business, or maybe relative to a new location you’re considering, we recommend that you visit the Baltimore City Police Department’s “Baltimore Crime Map” service at https://www.baltimorepolice.org/content/baltimore-crime-map. (This document is a PDF, so that link is not live. Just copy and paste it into your browser.)
What’s the point of all this? Well, for one thing, crime isn’t just a headline, it’s a fact. People are being hurt. Everyone, whether or not he or she is actually a victim of crime, suffers when any one of us – any family, any business – becomes a victim if, for no other reason, because of the impact of crime on business throughout our city, even in sections of Baltimore where the instance of crime is relatively light.
Don’t think for a minute that this is some lock arms, hold hands “one Baltimore” moment we’re talking about. By no stretch of the imagination is crime affecting all of us in the same way. No question about it, there’s a huge difference between being an actual victim of a crime and having your business adversely affected because local shopping and out-of-town visitor traffic are off. But whether the impact of crime is immediate or indirect, there is no part of our city, no person in it, who is unaffected by it.
Ours is a highly fragmented city of diverse neighborhoods, a city of haves and have-nots. Unfortunately, the only thing uniting us is that – regardless of where we live and work – we suffer the impact of all this crime together in some form or another. As a practical matter, there is no such thing as a crime-free section of our city.
No. Even for those of us who are fortunate enough to have never been physically touched by crime, there is no escaping its effect on the quality of our lives or on our income from work and from business investments, large and small.
And it’s dragging us down, holding back the very process of development and growth which, when it happens, will eventually pull the reasons for much of this crime out from under the people who are motivated, out of need and despair, to commit it.
Either we fix the economy or the unemployment and poverty which is driving so much of what is wrong with our city will continue, unabated. Either we fix the economy of Baltimore or there won’t be enough government revenues to help the victims and deal with the perpetrators that even a strong, vibrant, jobs-rich economy has failed to help.