The Crime Exchange: A Tale of Two Cities

Mark Hughes In Baltimore: Just minutes after I arrived, I was at the scene of a shooting ...

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

Just 15 minutes after stepping off the train at Baltimore's Penn station I found myself standing behind the yellow crime-scene tape after a shooting. We had been alerted to the attack on N Milton Avenue, in the east of the city, via Twitter. In the UK, the micro-blogging site is used mainly by people wanting to follow the thoughts and inanities of celebrities such as Stephen Fry. Here in Baltimore, the police use it to alert the media to shootings and homicides, such is their regularity.

Pacing up and down behind the tape, several police officers and a detective – bathed in the blue and red reflection of flashing police lights – are looking for a gun. They have searched under car wheel-arches and other likely hiding places it has been fruitless. And they appear to know it.

One of the cops jokes with another that he would take him and the rest of his team out to dinner at a restaurant of their choosing if they found the weapon that night. There was a catch, though. The detective made it clear that theyneeded to find the gun used in the shooting, not just a gun.

We take a walk around some of the neighbouring streets where young men are sitting on stoops outside rowhouses, listening to rap music and shooting dice. None had any information about how a man had come to be shot in the stomach just yards from them.

I had come to see the real Baltimore, the one behind the fictional television drama of The Wire. But my initial encounter – the bloody aftermath of a man shot in the stomach – was a scene which I had seen many times on the television, and reinforced all of the stereotypes.

Like countless others, I know what the corner of Fayette and Monroe looks like. I had seen drug deals in the low-rise projects. And I witnessed murders in vacant row-houses.

It is, of course, all thanks to The Wire and the endless weekends I devoted to the box set. But, despite the brief sojourns I made from the comfort of my living-room, until now I had no idea how accurate a picture The Wire painted of the real-life Baltimore.

The crime figures certainly suggest the fictional drama matches the reality. Baltimore is, statistically, the second-deadliest city in the USA; only in Detroit are you more likely to be murdered. Last year there were 234 homicides in the city which has a population of 650,000. It was a 20-year-low, but still meant that one in every 2,700 people was murdered. In Britain, that figure is about one in 85,000.

In that sense, I was wary that straying into the wrong neighbourhood could cause problems. Although I was not hysterical enough to have pre-emptively penned my own obituary.

Justin Fenton, the Baltimore Sun's crime correspondent, said: "Statistically, it is very dangerous, but I have lived here a long time and I don't feel like I'm in any danger." Throughout the week, we will be writing about all aspects of crime in Baltimore. Particularly, given the extraordinarily high murder rate, we will examine the city's homicide epidemic; what causes it, who causes it and what is being done to stop it.

The answer to the first question, I am told, is drugs. The city has a very real drug problem and I am assured by natives of Baltimore that the gangs fighting turf wars for control of the drug trade are the main cause of the higher-than-usual murder rate. I want to speak to the people who deal drugs and those who take them.

One columnist in the Baltimore Sun recently described Baltimore as a city of two worlds. It is in the "other world", the one populated by drug dealers and gangsters, that most murders occur. Those not involved in the drug trade are apparently as unlikely to be murdered in Baltimore as they are in any other civilised city in the world.

Figures seem to suggest that is true. Of the 234 murders last year, 194 of the victims (82 per cent) had criminal records and 163 (70 per cent) had a history of being arrested for drug offences.

It is a similar story with the suspects. Police identified 107 homicide suspects in 2008. Of them, 94 (88 per cent) had a criminal record and 76 (71 per cent) had been arrested for drugs. So it would appear that most murders are committed by criminals against criminals.

The exchange will also be an opportunity to see the American police forces and justice system at work. Last month, the Metropolitan Police announced that armed police officers were to patrol the streets of London for the first time. They then backed down in the face of overwhelming fury from politicians and the public. But police carrying weapons is common practice in the US. Supporters say that it is only right that officers, who are likely to be confronted by criminals with weapons, should be armed themselves. Detractors claim it leads to more murders than it prevents.

In Britain, there are specially trained firearms police officers who are called upon to attend incidents in which guns are involved, and they are used to protect VIPs. They do not patrol the streets. It is a system means that instances of the police shooting people are relatively rare.

In Baltimore, police-involved shootings are not as uncommon. This year the Baltimore Police Department has shot 16 people so far; in a recent case, a 14-year-old robbery suspect was shot, although not killed.

I want to speak to officers on the front line in Baltimore to see how they see crime in their own city and ask whether, by carrying and using weapons, they perhaps add to it. I am also told that crime is allowed to thrive in Baltimore because of what the criminals perceive to be a weak justice system. We will speak to prosecutors and ask about their efforts in the fight against crime.

And we will look at what the communities are doing to stop it. I hear a lot about perceived apathy in Baltimore. I know there are a lot of groups working to address the problem of gun violence, but I also hear that many residents do not care about the crime rate and are not interested in solving murders that do not concern them.

Finally, while The Wire has been an unmitigated success in most quarters, I am acutely aware that the place it received the most hostile reception was, unsurprisingly given the murderous, drug-addled, bastion of corruption the city is represented as, Baltimore.

Both the Mayor and the present police administration are keen to distance themselves from the programme. They say it is fiction and not realistic. It has also been a sore point in the UK, with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner eager to play down any comparisons between London and Baltimore.

Because of this the exchange that Justin and I are undertaking has caused some consternation, especially in Baltimore. Many groups have been happy, even eager, to speak to me. Yet the Mayor and the police commissioner turned down interview requests.

So while, during the week, we will aim to give a complete picture of crime in Baltimore, the voices missing will be those of arguably some of the most important and influential people in the city, those charged with halting crime.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Assessor

£26000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: SAP Assessor Job T...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering