Not important enough to report? Think again, and save the neighborhood some crime

Written by on May 9, 2012 in Baltimore Voices, Blogs - No comments

Spring brings activity to our neighborhoods. Some of that activity is healthy—sports leagues are starting up, people are power-walking around the parks, the tennis courts, at least in Patterson Park, are ready for play.

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Some of that activity is not so healthy. (Hey, criminals like to work in comfort too.) So you may have come out to find your car broken into, like many Fells Pointers did Saturday. Or you may have come out to find that branches had been stripped from street trees, like some Conkling Street folks did.

Call the cops. Really. Even if the crime is hours old, and even if you think the police can’t or won’t do anything about it, call them.

People are reluctant to report minor crimes like graffiti or car break-ins where nothing valuable was stolen. They figure that police can’t do much, if anything, about it at this point.

They’re right.

But they should still report the crime. What cops can do about it is take a report.

The report works its way through the bureaucracy and eventually onto the district commander’s desk and downtown.

It becomes one of the thousands of stats that help police brass make decisions like a), how many cops to put on the street, b) which streets to put the cops on and c) what time the cops need to be on the particular streets.

Neighborhoods with few reported crimes get few patrols. It is a pretty simple equation in a city with too few police to go around.

It’s no mystery why Fells Point and Federal Hill get a lot of police attention at bar closing time. That’s when the action is, when drunks roll out of the megabars fighting, and when relatively sober people head to their cars and discover that a window is broken and their iPods/laptops/designer sunglasses/wallets/engagement rings/cell phones are missing.

There are usually a few cops within hailing distance of any neighborhood. Call them. Here’s how.

For any crime-in-progress, call 911. Tell the operator as much as you can about the crime, including what’s being done, where it is being done and who’s doing it.

If you see anyone breaking into cars, call 911.

If you see people fighting, call 911.

If you see someone peering into your neighbor’s windows, call 911.

If you hear screaming and shouting next door, and it is not the usual screaming and shouting, call 911.

If your neighbors are passing small packages out their door in exchange for cash, call 911.

If someone is spray-painting a bridge or a wall or your house, call 911.

Don’t worry about perhaps being wrong. I recently looked out my office window and saw a man crawling down from a roof carrying a black trash bag. I called 911.

The police sent a helicopter and three cars.

The guy crawling down from the roof was a roofer who was knocking off work and thinking about a few honestly earned beers when I sent a rain of police fury down around his head.

Fortunately it was easy to sort out and the poor roofer’s Happy Hour was delayed by only about a half-hour.

A few days later I was talking to a detective friend at the Southeastern District and told the story on myself for a few laughs. I told him how embarrassed I was. He said I shouldn’t be. “But they sent the helicopter!” I wailed.

Big deal, he said. That’s what it’s there for.

His point of view is, if a citizen sees something that looks like a crime in progress, the cops want a call. They want a chance to stop the crime and catch the bad guy. “When in doubt, call,” he said. “If it’s nothing we’ll go away. We won’t come chasing you for calling.”

For minor crimes that happened hours ago—car break-ins, graffiti, vandalism—call 311 and ask for police non-emergency. You will be connected to a sworn officer on desk duty who will ask you about the incident and send a police officer out to take a report if necessary.

If you see something, say something. It’s the best way to help your community fight crime.

by Jacqueline Watts

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