Can­ton group raises money for pa­trol

Cit­i­zens con­cerned about crime want armed guards

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Dun­can

Frus­trated by crime in their neigh­bor­hood and what they see as a lack­lus­ter re­sponse by Bal­ti­more of­fi­cials, a group of Can­ton res­i­dents is rais­ing money for a pri­vate armed se­cu­rity pa­trol.

Austin Rooney, an or­ga­nizer of an on­line public safety group in the neigh­bor­hood, launched a fundrais­ing page Thurs­day and quickly racked up thou­sands of dol­lars in do­na­tions. Rooney said he hopes that an ex­tra pa­trol will de­ter crime and that peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to con­trib­ute money will send city lead­ers a mes­sage.

“I hope this will pro­vide the city with a very clear state­ment that res­i­dents in Can­ton don't feel safe right now,” the 27-year-old De­fense Depart­ment videog- ra­pher said.

The fund drive reached its ini­tial $3,200 tar­get within seven hours af­ter be­ing put on­line, but sup­port for the idea was far from universal in the neigh­bor­hood, spark­ing de­bate over the best ways to keep safe and how race plays into peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of crime.

The Rev. James Hamil­ton, the priest at Church on the Square, wrote a lengthy post on the page of a pop­u­lar neigh­bor-

hood Facebook group con­demn­ing the idea of pri­vate pa­trol. “This will lead to racial/ eco­nomic ten­sions,” he wrote. “It is un­avoid­able. Do we re­ally know that this is go­ing to make us safer? Wouldn’t one in­ci­dent risk Can­ton be­ing ground zero for the next up­ris­ing? Are we re­ally see­ing the big pic­ture here?”

The crowd-fund­ing effort is aimed at pay­ing for a month­long trial dur­ing which a sin­gle off-duty po­lice of­fi­cer would pa­trol parts of the neigh­bor­hood with higher lev­els of crime. Off-duty of­fi­cers work­ing pri­vate jobs can still make ar­rests and use force, the same as if they’re on the clock for the city.

The effort to re­cruit pri­vate guards took on greater ur­gency for Rooney af­ter An­toine "Ge­orgie" Rich, 46, was shot to death in Can­ton over the La­bor Day week­end — the sec­ond homi­cide in the neigh­bor­hood this year. In June, lo­cal bar­tender Se­bas­tian Dvo­rak, 27, was shot to death on Bos­ton Street.

Rob­beries in the neigh­bor­hood have more than dou­bled since 2014, spook­ing some res­i­dents. “We’re tired of the same old hav­ing to take weeks on end and do­ing meeting af­ter meeting to get things done,” Rooney said.

Rooney said Thurs­day af­ter­noon that he’d en­gaged in de­bate over the idea on­line and he thought some im­por­tant points had been raised, es­pe­cially on how to mea­sure the pa­trol’s ef­fec­tive­ness and how to co­or­di­nate with the po­lice.

Con­cern about crime gripped city lead­ers over the sum­mer as the homi­cide rate hit un­prece­dented lev­els and other kinds of vi­o­lence climbed, but Rooney said Zeke Co­hen, the coun­cil­man who rep­re­sents Can­ton, seemed to have more ideas about long-term so­lu­tions than plans for im­me­di­ate ac­tion.

“There’s a gen­uine need in the com­mu­nity for some­thing more im­me­di­ate,” Rooney said. “I don’t see why that has to be a dirty word and can’t work hand in hand with long-term so­lu­tions.”

Co­hen said he un­der­stands the ur­gency of ad­dress­ing public safety is­sues in the city and is in touch with po­lice com­man­ders in the South­east­ern District al­most ev­ery night. At the same time, he said, the city needs to act to ad­dress the poverty that drives crime. “We need to come to­gether as a com­mu­nity around so­lu­tions right now,” he said.

Co­hen said he heard from peo­ple Thurs­day who were afraid of crime in the neigh­bor­hood, but said he also heard from peo­ple who wor­ried a pri­vate se­cu­rity pa­trol would lead to racial pro­fil­ing.

Rooney said he is work­ing on co­or­di­nat­ing with the Can­ton Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion. He de­vel­oped plans for the pa­trol on a Facebook page he runs for Can­ton res­i­dents in­ter­ested in boost­ing public safety and in­vited its 1,400 or so mem­bers to chip in. On Thurs­day, dozens of peo­ple pledged as much as $100 each to help the effort.

Doug Kauf­man, the pres­i­dent of the Can­ton Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion, said he was aware of the group’s work but that the as­so­ci­a­tion had yet to take an of­fi­cial po­si­tion on it.

Thomas “Tommy Bee” Bourne, a Can­ton res­i­dent who seeks to teach peo­ple to keep them­selves safe in the city, ac­knowl­edges the area faces some crime prob­lems. But he wor­ried that the crowd-fund­ing effort was fu­eled by panic and not well thought out.

Some on­line neigh­bor­hood groups have been crit­i­cized for be­com­ing a fo­rum for flag­ging black peo­ple in pre­dom­i­nantly white ar­eas, even when there’s no ev­i­dence of them com­mit­ting a crime. Bourne said he’s con­cerned a pri­vate guard would trans­late that at­ti­tude to the street.

“I’ve never felt safer than I do in Can­ton,” he said. “Now, as a black male, I'm feel­ing less safe with the prospect of hav­ing a pri­vate se­cu­rity force work­ing around. That just screams pro­fil­ing wait­ing to hap­pen."

T.J. Smith, a Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment spokesman, said the depart­ment looked for­ward to talk­ing to res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers about their con­cerns. Smith blamed crime in the south­east­ern part of the city on ju­ve­niles. “We have ded­i­cated re­sources to South­east Bal­ti­more in re­sponse to rob­bery pat­terns and have made many mean­ing­ful ar­rests and ap­pre­hen­sions,” he said.

If Rooney’s effort is suc­cess­ful, Can­ton would be­come the latest neigh­bor­hood to back up the po­lice with pri­vate se­cu­rity. Some are funded through a spe­cial tax, while others rely on vol­un­tary pay­ments. Other neigh­bor­hoods have vol­un­teer pa­trols.

Guil­ford in North Bal­ti­more has had pri­vate se­cu­rity since the early 1990s. Cur­tis Camp­bell, a mem­ber of the Guil­ford As­so­ci­a­tion board, said the pa­trols are a crime de­ter­rent and that while crime has in­creased this sum­mer, things could have been even worse with­out them. Camp­bell said the pa­trols aug­ment po­lice at a time when “their re­sources are com­pletely maxed out.”

Across the coun­try, other neigh­bor­hoods — typ­i­cally wealthy ones like Can­ton, which has a me­dian in­come more than dou­ble that of the city as a whole — have made ef­forts in re­cent years to raise money on­line when anx­i­ety about crime has risen.

Those ef­forts have some­times been crit­i­cized for lay­er­ing ex­tra pro­tec­tion on al­ready gen­er­ally safe neigh­bor­hoods, while do­ing noth­ing to help ar­eas with more se­ri­ous crime prob­lems.

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