FOUR YEARS ago, Baltimore had the grim distinction of having the highest rates of violent crime and drug addiction of any big American city.
Baltimore's fortunes were transformed when its Mayor, Martin O'Malley, ordered a blitz on the low-level offending that scarred communities. The city's agencies were given targets for tackling vandalism and drunkenness and were repeatedly judged on them. He cites that as a driving factor behind Baltimore's 26 per cent fall in violent crime since 1999.
Mr O'Malley was a guest of honour yesterday when David Blunkett, the Home Secretary,launched his latest attempt to get to grips with Britain's plague of anti-social behaviour.
Mr Blunkett visited Baltimore earlier this year and liked what he saw. He also travelled to nearby New York, where the former mayor Rudolph Giuliani mounted a similar drive to shed the Big Apple's reputation as America's murder capital.
New York's Red Hook community justice centre, where swift local justice is dispensed, has been the model for a pilot scheme in Liverpool.
Baltimore and New York based their fightback against crime on the philosophy of giving communities a sense of partnership in efforts to reduce antisocial behaviour, which can lead to much more serious offending.
Mr O'Malley said yesterday that Baltimore's population "rallied" after the authorities took tough action against "the tiny minority" of troublemakers. He said: "It's that civic engagement, that tipping point, I think this antisocial behaviour campaign is trying to reach."
The blueprint for Britain, where rates of violent crime are much lower but low-level offending is a similar blight, also smacks of the Government's new-found commitment to "localism".
Ten urban areas with specific problems have been selected for action. …