It’s Not Complicated—City Voters Want Crime Down and Quality of Life Up
New Baltimore Banner poll shows that local residents maintain hope for their great city. But they want something done on violent crime and other social ills.
It’s rare to see high quality local journalism starting up these days rather than shutting down or getting gobbled up by a hedge fund. Residents of Baltimore City (myself included) were fortunate then to see the official launch of the nonprofit founded Baltimore Banner last week featuring serious reporting on city politics, economic development, crime and justice issues, and cultural offerings across Baltimore’s diverse mix of neighborhoods.
For public opinion junkies, the new Banner also released an inaugural citywide survey of 1000 residents conducted with Goucher College. The results are fascinating and offer good insight into how voters view the complex social and political situation in Charm City. Although the historical legacy of Baltimore is unique, the views expressed by city residents provide a good window into the emerging views of voters in other urban areas who may be facing similar challenges and opportunities in their hometowns.
What do Baltimore residents want? It’s not complicated—they want to see crime go down and the quality of life in their neighborhoods go up.
For starters, Baltimoreans are not happy with the direction of their city. More than two thirds of city residents think the city is heading in the wrong direction while less than one fifth of city dwellers believe it is heading in the right direction. Although many issues are important to city residents, crime is by far the most critical issue to most people: 90 percent of respondents overall say crime is a major issue in Baltimore. As the Banner reports:
Ronald Anderson is one of them. He’s used to dealing with nonviolent crime in his neighborhood — his Old Goucher home is near several corners well-known as sex work hubs. “We’re always cleaning up condoms and excrement in our alley,” he said.
But when Yahmell Montague and Angel Morgan Heather Smith, who was about seven months pregnant, were shot and killed a couple of blocks from Anderson’s home in May, he was taken aback by the violence.
“The city is [headed] backwards,” the 51-year-old federal worker said.
The crime issue really hits home for people across the city: more than half of Baltimore residents overall say they do not feel safe in their neighborhoods. As seen in the chart below, nearly 6 in 10 black residents report feeling unsafe in Baltimore along with 48 percent of white residents and 55 percent of those of a different race or ethnicity.
Crime is also hitting middle- and lower-income Baltimoreans particularly hard. For example, those residents earning less than $49,000 per year are almost twice as likely as those earning more than $100,000 annually to say that they feel unsafe in their neighborhoods.
What do Baltimore residents want to see done on crime? They want an all-of-the-above strategy. This means first and foremost getting the bad actors off the streets and doing more to reduce violent crime across the city. As seen below, more than 8 in 10 Baltimoreans want to impose harsher punishment for violent offenders and an equal proportion want to both increase police presence and the number of patrols in the city and impose stricter gun control laws and punishments for gun crimes. More than 7 in 10 residents also want to increase funding for city’s Safe Streets program, a successful project that uses trusted community members to help intervene in conflicts before they get violent.
Interestingly, although more than two thirds of residents want to see some funding from the police budget allocated to other social programs and treatment options, most residents also believe the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) should get more funding not less. As the Banner reports:
When asked their opinion on allocating funding from the police budget to various social, mental health and drug treatment programs, 67% expressed support. Black and white residents’ stances were nearly identical.
But when asked in a separate question about changing BPD’s funding, 44% of respondents said it should be increased, 29% said funding should stay the same and just 16% said funding should be decreased.
Despite concerns about crime and other social ills, Baltimore residents remain hopeful about their city. As Natasha Gibson of southwest Baltimore and Chris Broome from the central part of the city told the Banner:
“With all the crime and all the bloodshed, this is going to sound contradictory, but the people are good,” she said. “My neighborhood is good. We stick together, we watch out for each other, we watch each other’s kids if their parents can’t be home, we watch out for our cars since we’ve been dealing with carjackings and break-ins.”
Others say the city’s crown jewel cultural amenities like music and art will continue to bring in droves, as will neighborhoods, parks and streetscapes that continue to offer handsome urban vistas and offbeat appeal lacking in suburbs or other cities. Broome, of Charles Village, grew up deep in the suburbs “where going anywhere interesting required a half-hour’s drive.”
“Now I’m a couple blocks from a brewery, supermarket, bookstores galore,” he said. “There’s two jazz fests in my neighborhood this summer, and the Ottobar is still there.”
But the good vibes about our great city only go so far. After years of depopulation, the Banner poll still finds around two thirds of residents today actively considering moving out of Baltimore sometime in the future. Most of the people thinking about moving out cite crime as their primary motivation for leaving (70 percent), followed by quality of life (50 percent) and cost of living (44 percent) issues.
For political leaders in Baltimore and other cities the message from residents is crystal clear: stop the violence, improve city life, and help all neighborhoods and all families thrive.