From Seattle writer and consultant Matt Rosenberg...

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Shine A Beacon On More Than Baltimore's Lightpole Thieves

November 25, 2005

Second-term Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley has earned deserved accolades for an effort to fight crime, drugs and improve education in his city. His adoption of New York City's CompStat program to measure progress on crime-fighting and infrastructure maintenance has by now been emulated by many other municipal governments.

But Mayor O'Malley, running in a contested Democratic primary for Maryland Governor, is still dealing with a lot of negative publicity about crime in his city, and that too, is deserved. Thieves - likely desperate to fund their drug addicitions - are stealing the city's lightpoles; 130 of them so far. This is really quite something if you stop to consider the size of a lightpole.

The poles, which weigh about 250 pounds apiece, have been snatched during the day and in the middle of the night, from two-lane blacktop roads and from parkways with three lanes on either side of grass median strips, in poor areas and in some of the city's most affluent neighborhoods. Left behind are half-foot stubs of metal, with wires that carry 120 volts neatly tied and wrapped in black electric tape.

...The culprits seem to have pole-snatching down to a model of precision and efficiency, city officials say. They appear to have gone so far as dressing up as utility crews, police say, and placing orange traffic cones around the poles about to be felled, to avoid arousing suspicion among motorists.

The missing poles have become yet another measure of the desperation in one of the country's most violent cities. Last year, Baltimore, with a population about one-twelfth that of New York City's, had a homicide rate more than five times as high. An illegal drug trade fuels much of the violence. Health officials say 40,000 addicts live among Baltimore's estimated 650,000 residents. For at least a decade, addicts who cash in scrap metal to pay for their next fix have been ripping metal pipes, radiators and wires out of vacant houses, and prying cast-iron security grates and downspouts from buildings.

Morgan Quitno's Press' well-known annual "City Crime Rankings" reports Baltimore has just been named the sixth most dangerous U.S. municipality, "up," as it were, from 11th last year. A Democratic state legislator wants the state police to start patrolling in Baltimore, but O'Malley says he's opposed, more treatment programs are the answer (huh?).

"If they deployed half of their sworn strength to the city Baltimore for a year's duration, it would not do as much good as we could do in improving parole and probation, improving juvenile services, improving drug treatment and improving re-entry programs," O'Malley said.

Talk about re-arranging deck chairs on The Titanic, Mayor......

The blog "Baltimore Crime" keeps track of all the latest. And finally, Baltimore Messenger columnist Kathy Hudson gives an example-filled report of increasing neighbrhood crime, and notes:

Even as I file this column, more has happened. I just learned that the downspouts across the street were stolen. Have they gone the way of the disappearing light poles?

At the root of urban dysfunction, addiction and crime are underclass parenting failures and lousy public schools. There is no magic bullet, not CompStat, and not government social and rehab programs. Kids need two parents in the home, who are both involved in their education and moral development, and who set a good example themselves. And if THEIR parents were f***-ups, sorry - that's no excuse.

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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at November 25, 2005 02:22 PM

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