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Are the Baltimore Police Abandoning Sandtown?

Mark Whitehouse writes editorials on global economics and finance for Bloomberg View. He covered economics for the Wall Street Journal and served as deputy bureau chief in London. He was previously the founding managing editor of Vedomosti, a Russian-language business daily.
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In the wake of the riots that rocked the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray last month, one would have expected the authorities to make an extraordinary effort to restore order in the area. The latest data on crime and arrests, though, suggest the opposite might be true.

From May 3 through May 9, the first full week after the riots, police data show just two arrests in Sandtown, one for a sex offense and the other for reckless endangerment. Over the same period, the police received 19 crime reports, including three involving gun-related assaults. The resulting ratio of arrests to reports -- about 1 to 10 -- was the lowest in the area in more than two years. Here's how that looks:

The data match anecdotal reports from locals, who worry that the police have pulled out of the neighborhood. Community organizer Ray Kelly, president of the No Boundaries Coalition, said that over the past year or so his group had managed to get the police to add foot and mobile patrols -- but those had disappeared after the riots.

"We've probably lost a thousand steps for the fifty we've made," he said.

Baltimore Police Captain Eric Kowalczyk warned against drawing conclusions from one week of data. He noted that most of the 19 crime reports came from just two addresses, suggesting that they reflect a smaller number of incidents. "Officers are still in the crime fight," he said. "We are responding to calls every day."

Still, even the raw number of arrests -- two -- was by far the lowest in more than two years. Since the beginning of 2013, Sandtown has had an average of 15 arrests a week.

No doubt, the police are in a tough spot. It's understandable that they don't feel welcome in Sandtown, where anger remains raw. And of course nobody wants a repeat of the Freddie Gray arrest. That, however, wouldn't justify compromising the safety of the law-abiding people who live there.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Mark Whitehouse at mwhitehouse1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net