The Crime Exchange: A Tale of Two Cities:

Justin Fenton in London: The sound of fireworks reminds me of home

Today marks the first part of a unique collaboration between The Independent and The Baltimore Sun in which our crime correspondent, Mark Hughes, swaps places with his counterpart, Justin Fenton. From the streets of Brixton to Baltimore's projects, we’ll report on the reality of crime in Britain and Baltimore to find out if the shadow Home Secretary is right when he said our streets are going the same way as those portrayed in the US TV series The Wire

Catching some rest after my overnight flight, I woke up to the sound of police sirens and a constant pop-pop-popping outside the Kentish Town flat where I'm staying. I assumed it was fireworks – I would later learn it was part of the Guy Fawkes celebrations – but where I'm from, it was instinctive to wonder if such sounds could also be gunfire.

Vast pockets of blight and neglect are the setting for nightly gun battles in Baltimore, with young men, fighting over drug turf and respect, settling scores with firearms. Though such crimes directly impact a small percentage of the city, there are indirect effects on us all. Despite significant improvements, including a 20-year low in killings last year, the city remains one of the most violent in America, and some wonder whether the cycles of poverty and drug addiction are intractable.

These issues made it a perfect backdrop for The Wire, one of, if not the only, mainstream television programs to explore such urban ills. The show sparked strong reactions locally during its seven-year run in America, from local politicians who condemned its depressing imagery to residents who got a kick out of seeing familiar faces and places. Ultimately, for a place nicknamed Charm City, the city's depiction was less than pleasant.

It's intriguing to us at The Baltimore Sun that a show about problems so specific to our city – and others in America like it – was not only picked up to air in the United Kingdom, but appears to have been rather popular and sparked a dialogue about crime.

We've been inundated with requests from British media outlets who want to explore our streets, interview our leaders and visit our bars. We paid attention when Tory MP Chris Grayling created a controversy by comparing an area of Manchester to Baltimore, and when a prankster set up a fake Twitter page for our mayor. Just as I was preparing to arrive, your police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, made a point to emphasize that London's crime problems were nothing compared to Baltimore. Statistically, it's puzzling to me why such a comment would even be necessary.

With The Independent's Mark Hughes in Baltimore to explore just how accurate The Wire's depictions of the city are, we took him up on an offer to venture to the UK, with an eye on learning about emerging crime trends there that may have contributed to the show's cult following. We're hoping Mark gets an up-close look at the problems Baltimore faces, but also the other diverse (and less crime-ridden) sides to a city that we call home. Meanwhile, we want to see how law enforcement and neighborhoods grapple with violence and drugs in places that, at least from far away, seem to have very little in common with Baltimore than their fascination with a television show.

Already, I've seen major differences in the ways Brits access information about crime. The notion that the British press cannot report freely about criminal cases, including a defendant's background and the accusations of a crime, until their court proceedings are over is a major change of pace from how we cover cases in America. Our court system works under the assumption that information should be available to the public, and that it is the court's burden to find a jury of 12 people who have no prejudices or information on the case. Meanwhile, the media has the opportunity to explore a case in considerable depth, which can sometimes expose flaws in how a case was handled or gaps in the criminal justice system that require scrutiny.

Also, we have police scanners at the ready, listening in as crime happens so we can travel to the scene. The Baltimore Police Department has been using Twitter to blast out breaking incidents to not just the media but the general public. I'm told that here, a day or more can go by before an incident is reported.

While I'm here, I plan to travel to Manchester's Moss Side, tour Brixton, venture to housing estates and talk with community members. And I want to hear from you about your views and perceptions of crime. Email me at

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform