Monday, September 11, 2023

Forget It Jake, It's Baltimore

 Hat Hair's Jazz Shaw wonders Has Baltimore (almost) fixed the "squeegee boy" problem?

We’ve been covering the problem of the “squeegee kids” in Baltimore Maryland for years. Groups of young people, some of whom may or may not be associated with local gangs, hang around near traffic lights at busy intersections and approach cars when they are unable to move. They begin spraying and wiping down windshields and then demanding money from the drivers. If people refuse to pay for this unsolicited “work,” they frequently become violent, causing damage to vehicles and even assaulting drivers. Some of them have even been convicted of murder.

When Baltimore’s new mayor announced a plan to deal with the problem back in January, it appeared to fail almost immediately. Signs were put up indicating “no squeegee zones” and community work programs were launched to give the “squeegee workers” (as Mayor Brandon Scott likes to call them) other employment or educational opportunities, but most of them simply ignored the signs and kept doing what they were doing. But after almost a year, could it really be working? A new report from the local CBS News outlet suggests that it might.
There’s an updated Squeegee Collaborative report that details the effectiveness of efforts to change squeegeeing throughout Baltimore.

According to new data updated August 24, squeegee activity has dropped drastically in the city.

Leaders with the squeegee collaborative credit these numbers to there now being more opportunities provided for squeegee workers, including work and education alternatives.

If you watch the brief video report at the link, they offer what they describe as a “drastic” drop in “squeegee activity” in the city. They include one figure citing an 81% drop from the previous year. That’s an impressive figure and it would suggest that the work done by the “Squeegee Collaborative” is really getting the job done.

But is it really that much better? To be sure, there are at least some of the squeegee kids going elsewhere, including a few who are back in school and others taking day jobs from the city. So that’s an improvement. But we should first keep in mind that when they say there’s been a “drastic drop around the city,” they’re specifically talking about six intersections where the program was put in place. Baltimore has a lot more intersections than that, and the others are not being similarly monitored.

The program has received 1,633 calls from motorists so far since the program went into effect. That still seems like an awfully large number of complaints in less than a year, doesn’t it? The city proudly boasts that 98.2 percent of those calls were “handled” without warnings or citations being issued. 34 incidents did result in arrests or the issuance of citations. So does that mean that the squeegee kids are engaging in less abusive behavior or were the cops simply told to write fewer tickets and let most of them off with a verbal warning?

I have no trouble believing that fewer of the squeegee kids are engaging in direct, physical attacks on drivers in this zone when there are uniformed police officers standing around watching. But, again, we’re talking about six intersections here. How many of those other calls went unanswered if they came from different intersections?

If nothing else, we’ve heard of no serious injuries or deaths among motorists this year caused by the squeegee kids, so that’s an improvement to be sure. But this announcement from City Hall really does sound like it involves a lot of spin and seeks to paint some lipstick on a pig that really hasn’t lost all that much weight. We should keep in mind that the primary season for next year’s municipal elections is just getting underway and Mayor Scott has already drawn a challenger. We can’t exclude the possibility that he’s looking for some good headlines to shore up his numbers and this squeegee program might not be as much of an unqualified success as his office is making it sound.

So, yeah, maybe they made some progress, but then again, maybe they're cooking the books. It is Baltimore after all. Maybe if they fixed the schools and taught them something useful, they wouldn't have to shake down commuters for a living.

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