By Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 3, 2007
With the sudden force of a summer storm off the Chesapeake Bay, much of Annapolis seems to be in an uproar over crime.
Businesses are offering reward money to catch violent robbers. Residents are meeting to discuss their safety. The mayor has issued four policy statements on law enforcement the past month, proposing longer police shifts, security cameras at public-housing complexes and officers on horseback and Segways.
Yet violent crime in Annapolis actually dropped 8 percent during the first six months of 2007 as compared with the same period last year. The city has had as many homicides this year -- four -- as bigger cities report in a week. And all those cases were quickly solved.
Then why the sudden concern? Combine a couple of high-profile crimes in prime locations of the city, alarm being sounded by City Council members while the mayor was away on an extended vacation, and the fact that one victim was walking home from the influential Annapolis Yacht Club.
"That's almost the perfect storm," said Ross H. Arnett III, a yacht club member who is also a Democratic alderman, representing Ward 8. "It doesn't happen that often."
The crimes that led to the heightened concern were near some of the city's best-known restaurants and businesses. On July 24, a restaurant worker was severely beaten and robbed by a group of people while walking home in Eastport, a neighborhood of upscale businesses and homes. On July 31, a young female employee of the yacht club was assaulted by a robber in Eastport while returning home.
Neither case has been solved. Although overall crime is down, incidents of aggravated assault and motor-vehicle theft are up for the first six months of the year.
The July 31 attack, in particular, "got the yacht club energized," said Arnett, whose district includes Eastport. "The yacht club has a lot of powerful members."
The outcry over crime is coming from people who are living and working "in what is essentially a paradise," Arnett said. "When you get the reminder that all of life is not idyllic, it's a major disruption."
Arnett said one Eastport resident told him that she was now "afraid to leave her house and she's afraid inside her house."
Rewards are being posted. The Eastport Civic Association has formed a committee focusing on crime, he said. And the Annapolis Yacht Club installed a security camera on its premises.
When Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) returned in mid-August from a trip that included a visit to Annapolis's sister city in Scotland, she discovered that her record on crime was being attacked.
Alderman David H. Cordle Sr. (R-Ward 5), a prospective mayoral candidate for 2009, said he is critical of Moyer and her administration for not putting enough police on the street in a city that has unique public-safety needs.
"We're a tourist attraction, we're the seat of county government, state government, we're a college town, we're a business district rolled into over six square miles," said Cordle, chief investigator with the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office.
Moyer fired back at those she said were trafficking in the "politics of fear," issuing four statements on her anti-crime policy in less than two weeks.
Moyer proposed reducing the number of police shifts per day from five to three to put more officers on the street at any time. She wants the police department to add at least one mounted unit and to buy more Segways, which she said would help officers cover more ground.
Moyer has asked police to establish a drug-and-gun task force with state and federal agencies. She also wants the state legislature to designate Annapolis a "drug-free zone," which would increase penalties for drug dealing. Calling drug addiction the root of much of the crime, particularly robberies and burglaries, she is seeking state funds for drug treatment. She is also urging the city's General Assembly delegation to push for legislation establishing harsher penalties for drug dealers in Annapolis.
"We're doing a variety of different things to secure public safety," Moyer said, "and a continuous drumroll of a handful of malcontents or people who are running for public office doesn't serve the public well."
Although some Annapolitans fear that Moyer's policy statements have reinforced the image that the city is in the throes of a crime wave, there is a consensus that the initiatives address long-standing issues.
Another concern is police recruitment. Annapolis and other jurisdictions are struggling to recruit and retain police personnel as officers continue to be deployed to Iraq through National Guard commitments. Five officers from the department have gone to Iraq this spring, Moyer said. Annapolis has 110 officers, she said, about 22 fewer than the city budgeted for.
Alderman Sam Shropshire (D-Ward 7) said he is working on legislation to boost recruitment efforts by allowing the city to help new hires buy homes, possibly helping them with down payments, he said.
"The competition is good for keen people," said Officer Hal Dalton, an Annapolis police spokesman, who added that 37 candidates passed a recent police test.
As for proposals by the mayor and others, Dalton said, the department is "definitely open to all ideas" and Chief Joseph S. Johnson is "committed to community policing, which means you're open to suggestions from everywhere."
"Ultimately, the mayor and City Council are our boss," Dalton said.
The mayor also wants to target crime at the city's public-housing complexes. She proposes that the police department and the Housing Authority work together to install security cameras and develop substations at the city's 10 sites. She also questioned why the Housing Authority hasn't used $200,000 earmarked to hire off-duty officers to patrol those locations.
The Housing Authority, which receives most of its funding from the federal government, hasn't spent the city's $200,000 because it is difficult to find officers willing to work off-duty at public-housing complexes, said Executive Director Eric Brown. He added that the Housing Authority has pushed for some security measures, including cameras.
"I'm glad to see the mayor is where we were a year ago," Brown said.
Although Annapolis has a reputation as a place where residents are more likely to seek protection by good intent than Smith & Wesson, there has been less discussion about drug-treatment programs to help the criminals and more talk about driving them out of Annapolis -- period.
"The citizens are anxious about their safety," Arnett said. "It's almost like the movie 'Network.' They're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore."