It’s the problem that keeps Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young up at night, and it’s the first thing he thinks about in the morning.
“Our residents deserve to live without the fear of violence and it is my obligation and duty to leverage every resource and tool available to stop the cycle of violence that is crippling our city,” Young said in his end-of-year news conference on public safety Monday.
“We cannot stop violent crime through policing alone. We must use both community-based interventions and an integrated crime-fighting strategy,” he said.
With hours still left to go in 2019, there have been 347 homicides in Baltimore this year, the highest per capita in recent years, according to Lester Davis, the mayor’s spokesman. The figure also marks five years in a row that the number of homicides has been over 300, according to the Baltimore Sun’s homicide database. It’s also close to the highest number of homicides ever recorded in the city in one year: 353, in 1993.
In an op-ed published in the Sun, Young lays out his plan, which focuses on identifying and charging gun crimes and holding weekly case reviews with the police department and the State’s Attorney’s Office to examine homicides, non-fatal shootings and armed robberies. He says he has received pledges of support from the governor’s office and the federal government.
Below his op-ed, the names of those killed in the city this year are listed, filling more space than the mayor’s column.
Any act of violence is one too many
Public Safety Deputy Chief of Staff Sunny Schnitzer said the administration will focus on data-driven policies as well as data-driven policing in the new year.
“The level of violence that we’ve experienced over the past several years is completely unacceptable,” she said during the mayor’s news conference. “Any act of violence is one too many.”
Police will focus the bulk of their analyses on gun crimes, Schnitzer said, and the city has hired a crime analyst to work with the police department and the sheriff’s office to prioritize warrants for violent offenses.
Treating violence like a disease
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said that as they work on improving their policing, “the work doesn’t stop while we reform.”
He says he finds the number of people shot and killed in the city “deeply disturbing.”
“That level of violence simply cannot be tolerated in a civil society, much less in a great city like Baltimore,” Harrison said.
He says he plans to treat the “actual disease” of violence, instead of what he described as the symptoms.
“[W]hen we only treat symptoms and never deal with root cause issues, violence, like a disease, builds resistance. It gets stronger and becomes more difficult to eradicate,” the commissioner said.
Harrison also said that even though the number of shootings and homicides is “unacceptably high,” the police department saw reductions for the year in almost every other crime category, including robberies, burglaries, rapes, and overall violent crime. Nearly 2,000 illegal guns were seized in 2019, he added.
Police union: It’s not rocket science
The city’s Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement Tuesday, criticizing the administration as being “out of touch.”
“This is not the first year we have had over 300 homicides, so why has it taken so long for this ‘plan’ to be presented?” the statement said.
“It’s not rocket science and to see it announced as though a light bulb suddenly went off in the minds of both the Mayor and Police Commissioner is terribly disconcerting.”
The FOP said police patrol ranks are “hundreds of officers short” and detectives are handling overwhelming caseloads, and charged that the department didn’t have the support of the city’s leadership or the BPD administration.
It also said the BPD is having trouble recruiting and retaining officers due to working conditions and the requirements of a federal consent decree, agreed to by the city in 2017, two years after the controversial death of Freddie Gray.
Changing Baltimore’s culture of violence
The mayor says his administration will “remain relentless” in pursuit of a safer Baltimore.
“We can talk all day about what to do after someone is killed, but we must also have a hard conversation about why the perpetrators of violence have no regards for human life,” Young said. “That’s the culture of violence that has taken root in our beloved city. And under my administration, we will not stop working our prime plan and making adjustments as needed until we change this culture of violence.”
“We owe it to ourselves and to the victims who are no longer with us.”