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.

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This snippet taken from a YouTube video shows a woman pepper spray a security guard early Saturday at McDonald’s in Atlantic City.

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.

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‘We’re just trying to keep our head above water, and you’ve got to do that to make sure that the people that come here have a pleasant experience,’ said Anthony Mack, who owns the McDonald’s near Tanger Outlets The Walk in Atlantic City.

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
1990 38.1 372.6 14
1989 34.5 397.8 15
1991 38.0 366.7 15
1992 34.1 325.6 8
1993 35.4 279.0 11
1994 28.0 227.6 9
1995 26.5 263.8 15
1996 24.3 263.1 11
1997 22.1 255.6 12
1998 18.5 219.9 14
1999 16.8 221.5 5
2000 13.4 172.5 11
2001 15.5 163.9 7
2002 18.5 137.4 5
2003 15.5 134.5 5
2004 17.5 125.8 5
2005 19.0 121.6 9
2006 20.4 112.3 18
2007 22.2 96.6 7
2008 16.9 73.8 11
2009 21.3 83.0 11
2010 20.7 89.8 11
2011 17.5 80.3 13
2012 17.9 75.6 18
2013 17.7 74.7 3
2014 13.7 73.9 6
2015 15.9 75.6 7
2016 12.5 58.8 12

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.

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.

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Indra Owens, center of Atlantic City, hugs a friend as she gives a tour of her neighborhood. Owens and Automne Bennett talk about the neighborhood during a ride along through the Atlantic City to check out the areas in her city that are dangerous.

“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.

Contact: 609-272-7239 aauble@pressofac.com Twitter @AublePressofAC

Atlantic City Crime Data

Year Crime Index Total Violent Crime Non-Violent Crime Crime Rate per 1,000 Violent Crime Rate per 1,000 Nonviolent Crime Rate per 1,000 Murder Rape Robbery Aggravated Assault Nonviolent Burglary Nonviolent Larceny Nonviolent Motor Vehicle Theft Arson
1990 15601 1446 14155 410.7 38.1 372.6 14 70 691 671 1408 12233 524 125
1989 15137 1209 13928 432.3 34.5 397.8 15 67 558 569 1440 11936 552 141
1991 15375 1444 13931 404.8 38.0 366.7 15 82 657 690 1751 11623 557 96
1992 13664 1296 12368 359.7 34.1 325.6 8 53 593 642 1505 10308 555 104
1993 11943 1345 10598 314.4 35.4 279.0 11 46 658 630 1274 9813 411 103
1994 9709 1063 8646 255.6 28.0 227.6 9 27 581 446 828 7483 335 104
1995 10614 968 9646 290.3 26.5 263.8 15 42 565 346 1258 8032 356 138
1996 10510 889 9621 287.4 24.3 263.1 11 48 451 379 863 8431 327 199
1997 10650 846 9804 277.6 22.1 255.6 12 61 463 310 926 8583 295 197
1998 9147 711 8436 238.4 18.5 219.9 14 33 391 273 1035 7094 307 258
1999 9072 640 8432 238.3 16.8 221.5 5 27 327 281 872 7338 222 73
2000 7534 544 6990 185.9 13.4 172.5 11 30 290 213 682 6071 237 92
2001 7268 629 6639 179.4 15.5 163.9 7 33 268 321 689 5772 178 29
2002 6319 751 5568 156.0 18.5 137.4 5 26 320 400 510 4872 186 56
2003 6024 621 5403 150.0 15.5 134.5 5 23 287 306 602 4636 165 13
2004 5786 707 5079 143.3 17.5 125.8 5 36 321 345 600 4298 181 15
2005 5708 772 4936 140.7 19.0 121.6 9 44 385 334 558 4224 154 15
2006 5357 822 4535 132.7 20.4 112.3 18 46 375 383 510 3821 204 8
2007 4745 886 3859 118.7 22.2 96.6 7 28 473 378 548 3111 200 16
2008 3598 671 2927 90.7 16.9 73.8 11 37 303 320 263 2504 160 7
2009 4109 840 3269 104.3 21.3 83.0 11 32 415 372 386 2749 134 20
2010 4790 898 3892 110.6 20.7 89.8 11 29 486 372 549 3215 128 14
2011 4239 760 3479 97.8 17.5 80.3 13 22 395 330 573 2802 104 5
2012 3694 707 2987 93.5 17.9 75.6 18 35 326 328 482 2417 88 4
2013 3647 698 2949 92.3 17.7 74.7 3 9 373 313 394 2482 73 2
2014 3465 541 2924 87.6 13.7 73.9 6 15 313 207 283 2577 64 0
2015 3622 628 2994 91.5 15.9 75.6 7 17 364 240 306 2612 76 1
2016 2797 490 2307 71.2 12.5 58.8 12 23 275 180 268 1960 79 1

Staff Writer

I report breaking news and cover the local stories at the Press's digital desk. I grew up in South Jersey and graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2017 with a degree in English.

Staff Writer

Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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