Crime is the dominant issue for Baltimore residents, according to a survey from Goucher College Poll and The Baltimore Banner, despite a decline in homicides and some other violent crimes since the start of 2023.

Nearly every respondent — 98% — said crime was a major or minor issue in the city, eclipsing litter, taxes and affordable housing.

The survey of 705 Baltimore registered voters was conducted by landline and cellphone from April 3 to April 7. The poll has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

The poll also asked residents what they thought were the root causes of crime. Drugs and substance abuse, underfunded schools and lack of education opportunities, along with a lack of adequate mental health and treatment programs, led the list. Many also pointed toward the breakdown of the family unit and systemic racism as reasons.

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Though not in the top five causes, 65% of respondents polled think a lack of effective city leadership on the issue of crime is a major factor, as well. Older residents and Black residents were more likely to blame leadership.

About two-thirds of residents surveyed approved of the job performance of Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, while more respondents approved of the job performance of Police Commissioner Richard Worley than disapproved. Reviews of the Baltimore Police Department were split, with nearly equal numbers of respondents approving and disapproving of the agency’s performance.

Ines Edney, a 65-year-old public health investigator and Democrat who lives in Forest Park, said the root causes of crime are poverty and hopelessness.

“It shapes who we’re going to be,” she said. Edney praised Bates but was dissatisfied with Worley, who she said got off to a bad start while still interim commissioner with the handling of July’s Brooklyn Homes mass shooting.

She said she enjoys going out to restaurants, visiting the Keystone Korner jazz club in Harbor East, but that people are afraid to come out of their homes right now because of the possibility of violent crime, like carjacking.

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Homicides have declined significantly in Baltimore in 2023 and so far in 2024 — down 44% since the same period two years ago. Carjackings dropped by 18% in 2023 — to 589 from 719 the year before — according to a Baltimore Banner analysis.

Baltimore is still feeling the effects of a car theft crisis spurred by the discovery of an exploit in certain Kia and Hyundai models — auto thefts are up 40% in 2024 compared to this time last year. The worst seems to be behind Baltimore, though. Monthly theft rates have declined sharply from the peak of the crisis that began surging in May of last year.

Heather Warnken, executive director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said that it’s worth recognizing the downward trend of gun violence in Baltimore, but in an important way, “perception is reality” when it comes to people’s experiences with crime.

”It is incredible, and we need to lift it up, that something is working. It’s getting better. How do we sustain that?” Warnken said. “But in the meantime, how do we meet people where they are in their very real perceptions of crime in their communities?”

When asked if there was more crime, about the same amount, or less crime in their neighborhood than there was a year prior, most respondents were evenly split between more crime and crime stayed the same. In a September Goucher-Banner poll, 47% of respondents said crime had worsened over the previous year.

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“They can talk about the murder rate going down but we still got a lot of issues in the community we are dealing with,” said David Smallwood, who is president of the Uplands Community Association, but did not participate in the poll.

Brian Copeland in Northwest Baltimore thinks many of the crimes in the city are being committed by young people and there’s no incentive for them to stop.

“They commit crimes because they’re not punished. If you continue to get away with something, you continue to do it as long as it’s profitable,” Copeland said.

The perception that young people are driving crime in communities was a common one. State data mirrors national trends, and shows a steady decline in youth arrests for violent crime over roughly the last two decades — with recent spikes in some categories.

Some surges have since receded.

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For instance, the number of high school-aged teens being shot in Baltimore has dropped dramatically, returning the rate to levels near those before a spike that began in 2022. So far in 2024, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds shot in Baltimore is one-third what it was in 2023, according to a Baltimore Banner analysis.

Copeland also pointed to the flow of unregistered and unlicensed guns in the city and the lack of employment.

“If you’re working, you don’t have time to stick people up,” he said.

Park Heights resident Erin Gray said her neighborhood feels safe, but she doesn’t always feel safe everywhere and accepts crime as part of city living. She generally agrees with Bates’ pursuit to hold parents accountable for the actions of their children, but she questions whether prosecuting parents will serve the child.

Bates announced earlier this month that he intended to charge parents of children who commit crimes, following news that police had connected a group of 12- to 17-year-olds centered in West Baltimore to dozens of incidents and more than 100 cases.

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“What is the plan here?” Gray asked.

Edward Mickle, who lives in the Coppin Heights Community, wants to see more police patrols in neighborhoods and for police to be connected to the areas they patrol. The father of four said he’s tired of seeing people in the same neighborhoods victimized by crime.

“The drug flow is coming in too heavy,” he said. People “are bringing guns into the city and kids are throwing their life away. I see this with my own eyes,” he said.

Baltimore Banner reporters Justin Fenton, Brenda Wintrode and data reporters Ramsey Archibald and Greg Morton contributed to this article.