As an Annapolis resident who has paid attention to the recent crime debate, I would like to supplement the post made by my esteemed colleague, Mr. Griffiths. (Click here if you would like supplemental commentary on Sam Shropshire, who was also mentioned on this blog today.)
I would tend to argue that perception of crime has a place alongside crime data regarding criteria used to determine if we have a crime problem. Measurement of crime is not an exact science. It is possible that fewer crimes being reported simply means that criminals are becoming more elusive or the police department cannot keep pace with the demand for their services.
The facts would not refute the latter theory. The Annapolis police department currently has more than 20 vacancies, which the mayor refuses to fill. She defends her position by pointing out that Annapolis has 3 officers per 1000 people, whereas the national average is 1 per 1000. Many, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, have argued that these ratios are not helpful.
For Annapolis the ratio is especially irrelevant, partly because we are a maritime and a capital city, but mainly because we have the highest ratio of public housing in the country–which brings me to my next point.
Where crimes are happening, not necessarily the trends of the number of crimes, is of particular importance. While tenants of subsidized housing constitute 6-15% of the population (nobody knows the actual amount because of the undocumented residents–not just immigrants), they commit somewhere around 30% of the drug and violent crimes. This is not breaking news, but as Mr. Griffiths alluded to, sadly it took a violent crime in a ‘tourist’ area to bring attention to the issue.
Much of the current debate about Annapolis crime concerns public housing. The first problem is that the mayor and the housing authority are famously un-friendly, and cooperation is slim or nil. The second problem is general police strategy. Many have recommended community policing–beat walking and foot patrols. This would allow officers to have more thorough interaction with high-crime areas. Perhaps more importantly, it would allow officers to get to know the residents, and therefore more capably identify those persons who don’t belong.
But to accomplish the foot patrols, we need more officers. Everybody except the mayor and the police chief have admitted this. And although the following information has not been verified by mine own eyes, it is my educated belief that the general orders of the police department direct a reactionary philosophy for officers, including restrictions on when officers can get out of their cars. (This belief was denied, anonymously, by a member of the police department.)
So after numerous press releases, new committees, and calls for Segways and a horse, this is about where we stand today.