A video that captured a fight inside the McDonald’s on Arkansas Avenue in March racked up more than 1 million views on Facebook and sparked multiple online comments.
“They act like animals, so sad,” Patricia Miller wrote about the scene in which several teens threw cups at staff and pepper sprayed a security guard.
Comments also turned to the city itself. “This is why AC is doomed. Tourists don’t want to deal with this. Take your money to CT casinos,” Al Ambro wrote.
For Anthony Mack, who owns that McDonald’s and one on Albany Avenue with his wife, the video is just a snapshot of his reality. Even before the fight broke out and the teens were charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, Mack said his restaurant has become a hub for illicit behavior and unruly activity.
“We’re just trying to keep our head above water,” Mack said about his business, just steps away from shoppers at Tanger Outlets The Walk, “and you’ve got to do that to make sure that the people that come here have a pleasant experience.”
The crime there isn’t always violent.
Still, Mack knows all too well that aggressive begging, theft and outbursts like the fight are what his customers remember.
And, whether criminal or simply unpleasant, high-profile incidents such as the one depicted in the video leave residents and outsiders with the impression Atlantic City is unsafe.
“This is really not a bad area, but if we don’t get our arms around it, we’re never going to be the best we can be,” Mack said.
It’s a challenge Atlantic City as a whole shares.
Law enforcement and other community stakeholders have to address the reality and complexities of urban crime. But they must also improve perception so the visitors they hope to attract and the residents they hope to keep feel safe.
Crime is still not as low as local leaders and police would like, but data show total crime in the resort is a third of what it was in 2013.
In 2018, police saw yet another round of sharp decreases — nearly 30 percent for violent crime and almost 32 percent for nonviolent crime from the year before.
Atlantic City Crime Data 2
|Year||Violent Crime Rate per 1,000||Nonviolent Crime Rate per 1,000||Murder|
So why is perception still struggling to keep up with reality?
Louise Schwartz, 75, who has lived in the South Inlet for 2½ years, had a friend in neighboring Ventnor say she was too afraid to visit her at the Bella Condos.
“I was insulted that she thought coming into Atlantic City, although she was less than a mile from my house ... was going to be a very dangerous place to visit, to walk down the street,” she said.
ATLANTIC CITY — A bright yellow backhoe sat on top of five feet of rubble in the middle of K…
Some residents and visitors say the declining crime numbers don’t reflect the deep-rooted issues they see in the city: poverty and a transient population in need of mental health and addiction treatment.
A 2008 study published by Washington State University researchers looked at crime perception surveys from almost 3,000 eastern Washington state residents and found citizens did not differentiate between crime and disorder.
Disorder was the primary focus of the influential 1982 article “Broken Windows” by social scientists George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, which focused on an overlooked source of fear — the fear of being bothered by “disorderly” people.
Not violent people, or even criminals, but those such as panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, loiterers or people with mental health struggles.
Kelling and Wilson claimed leaving disorder unchecked — whether it’s not fixing broken windows or not addressing unruly behavior — could lead to increased fear and withdrawal from residents that consequently opens up their neighborhoods to crime.
While this approach may help lessen fear, there’s not clear evidence it helps reduce crime. In practice, “broken windows policing” in major cities such as New York has become synonymous with aggressive misdemeanor arrests and harassment, all while crime experts have found no compelling evidence it significantly reduces crime.
Critics in follow-up studies cite one prominent flaw in applying the theory: Disorder doesn’t look the same to everyone. Perceptions can be racially and culturally motivated.
Atlantic City is preparing to put more officers on the street via a community policing initiative that would station veteran officers in neighborhoods to monitor trends. That same initiative would assign a task force to address homelessness and petty crime in the Tourism District.
Police Capt. Rudy Lushina said during a meeting of the city’s Boardwalk Committee on April 10 that officers will hand out business cards with their city-assigned cellphone number for residents to contact them.
“Our goal is to not frustrate the citizens, but give them the best help they can when they call one number,” he said, adding it’s “designed to do long-term problem-solving.”
The program will also look to partner with the city’s social services, said Matt Doherty, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment and Development Authority, which is funding the program.
But along with policing certain neighborhoods, residents are concerned about how they look.
With more than 500 documented abandoned properties, parts of the city contain trash, unused space and decaying homes residents feel bring crime and illicit activity into their neighborhoods.
“This was a beautiful house,” said Indra Owens, 37, pointing to boarded-up and abandoned homes on McKinley Avenue, the street where she grew up. “I don’t know why the people are abandoning properties. I know taxes are an issue, too, but the crime is off the hook — don’t nobody want to live here.”
Owens and her friend and fellow city resident Automne Bennett, 36, said they were skeptical of the city’s crime data as they pointed out abandoned properties last month they said have become a breeding ground for crime and drug use.
How much urban decay and how great of a sense of safety people feel are often linked. And while there are many properties that may make people feel unsafe, efforts to revitalize them can have big returns on perception.
According to one study, researchers who tracked 5,112 abandoned buildings and vacant lots in Philadelphia from 1999 to 2013 found urban blight mediation programs to be cost-beneficial strategies that significantly reduce gun violence.
Remediation of buildings reduced gun violence 39%, and vacant-lot remediation reduced it by 5%. Taxpayer and society returns were $5 and $79 for every dollar spent on abandoned building remediation, and $26 and $33 for every dollar spent on vacant-lot remediation.
Recent additions of positive development like the city’s Stockton University campus have brought renewed hope to many residents that the city will become what it should be — a destination like Miami, Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard — but there’s still work to be done.
“In order for Atlantic City to really, really change, we got to change the culture,” Bennett said. “It’s a mindset shift.”
Staff Writers Molly Bilinski and Vincent Jackson contributed to this report.