The Daily Record: Good news in Baltimore’s war against crime

Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on thedailyrecord.com on March 15, 2018.

There is good news worth noting in the fight against violent crime in Baltimore City. The number of homicides and non-fatal shootings have been trending downward over the past four months.

It’s too early to identify the specific factors that have brought about this welcome trend.

However, to their credit, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and law enforcement officials have been instituting a number of initiatives that are part of a comprehensive strategy to interrupt violent crime in the short term and prevent it in the long term. Elements of the crime-fighting strategy include a number of new programs that are already in play, while others are in the planning stages or will roll out shortly.

Sadly, you wouldn’t know about some of these promising trends from local news coverage about the crime situation in Baltimore. News outlets remain focused on drama and negativity rather than reporting the positive inroads being made on the crime front.

A recent presentation at a Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) event by Drew Vetter, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, is a case in point. Vetter’s presentation included details on a number of new or planned initiatives.

The initiatives point to a thoughtful and coordinated approach that targets repeat violent offenders, the perpetrators of much of the crime and violence that has overshadowed the many positive stories about the city and has soured Baltimore’s reputation. Some of these initiatives also lay the ground work to address some of the root causes of crime, such as poverty and joblessness.

A look at the city crime statistics provided by Vetter shows the recent overall trend is improving for all major categories of crime.

Homicides year to date in 2018 compared to the same period in 2017 are down more than 20 percent. Shootings are down more than 48 percent. Robbery is down more than 24 percent. Aggravated assault is down 32 percent.

This doesn’t minimize the shooting and homicides that continue to bring tragedy and suffering to families and communities in the city.

But it is movement in the right direction and points to new approaches having a positive effect, albeit still early in the game. It is paramount – and only fair – to recognize Pugh, her public safety advisers and state and local law enforcement agencies for this progress.

I can assure you if these crime indicators were headed in a different direction the media would be looking to them for answers.

The new approaches

As outlined in Vetter’s presentation, a number of immediate efforts have been undertaken focused on stemming the high-levels of violent crime that have plagued the city since 2015, when civil unrest erupted and led to a significant spike in crime. These measures include:

  • Identifying and focusing police and prosecutorial resources on “individuals at risk” for committing violent crimes by analyzing a number of risk factors. This has led to 703 arrests, including 72 for gun violations in 2018.
  • Modernizing technologies, such as gunshot detection systems, patrol car laptops and data collection and analysis programs.
  • Expediting recruitment and hiring of police officers for street patrols. The hiring process has been cut to four months from eight, and hiring now exceeds attrition.
  • Launching Strategic Decision Support Centers, which have been effective in Los Angeles and Chicago.These “intelligence centers” allow a “more nimble and nuanced approach to deploying officers, planning patrols or responding to calls based on district-specific information,” according to Vetter’s presentation. They’ll be staffed around the clock and combine “geographic-specific, real-time data, such as crime information, officer location data, video surveillance and gunshot detection, into a single platform for analysis.”

Long-term measures include:

  • Expanding the successful Safe Streets violence intervention program in Baltimore this year from the current four neighborhoods to 10 communities.
  • Launching a Roca program this year to disrupt the cycle of poverty and incarceration in juveniles and young adults at high-risk for criminal activity.

All of these strategies and tactics will require persistence, patience and hard work. There will be setbacks and disappointment.

But there is evidence in the recent crime statistics to suggest the tide is shifting in the right direction.

Private-sector leaders, the press and the public need to celebrate the reduction of crime to the same degree that they rightly criticized the negative crime statistics of previous time periods. As a city it is important to remain cautiously optimistic while giving credit where credit is due to the mayor and her leadership team for charting a thoughtful course that, day by day, strives to get the city on higher ground.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a frequent contributor to The Daily Record. 

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