The Daily Record: ‘Violence is out of control’ and a call to action

Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on on November 16, 2017.

Last week, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh stood before a throng of TV news cameras and reporters and stated publicly what many who have tracked the crime situation in Baltimore for the past two months, if not the past two years, have been thinking or discussing openly or privately.

“Violence in the city is out of control,” said the mayor, in office but a year.

Her comments were preceded by a rash of senseless violent crimes that lit up the switchboards at City Hall and the feeds on social media:

  • The carjacking of a 35-year-old man by a group of juveniles near a synagogue in northwest Baltimore.
  • The series of Halloween attacks by juveniles in several parts of Baltimore, including the affluent Homeland neighborhood.

The mayor’s comment was underscored even more tragically earlier this week when police announced that a 41-year-old Locust Point man who worked at a nearby tavern was fatally shot after he was followed out of a Royal Farms store on Key Highway. That was followed by the tragic killing a police detective working a case in the city.

Out of control? Yes. Here it is by the numbers:

Baltimore has so far logged more than 309 homicides in 2017, up 16 percent from 2016. That also marks the third straight year the city has seen more than 300 killings. According to Baltimore Police Department data, aggravated assaults are up 15 percent, robberies are up 13 percent, and carjackings are up 42 percent.

The mayor is to be applauded for publicly acknowledging the crime surge, and for taking additional steps to address the vexing crime issue that threatens public safety and which businesses, nonprofits and universities and other institutions have been so deeply concerned about, literally for years.

To that point, the Greater Baltimore Committee, in its 1999 report, “First Things First,” called on Baltimore officials to reduce homicides by 50 percent.

And so here we are, almost 20 years later, with a new mayor and police commissioner and unfortunately for them, the issue hasn’t gone away.

Sense of urgency

Pugh’s newest step to control crime – she already announced a comprehensive plan and appointed a crime czar, if you will – includes allocating more public resources, beyond police manpower, into high-crime areas of the city. Specifically, Pugh ordered most of the city’s department directors to convene daily with police Commissioner Kevin Davis to address issues, such as boarding up known or suspected drug houses and circulating job application information. The mayor also wants to significantly expand a successful anti-violence program known as Safe Streets.

The business community and other members of the private sector wholeheartedly support these initiatives, and stand ready to partner with the mayor and her team to get concrete efforts underway to effectively address violent crime in the short term and the long term.

That said, businesses and others in the private sector, who worry daily about the safety of their employees, customers and visitors, are looking to the city, police and prosecutors to act with a sense of urgency.

In some ways, Baltimore seems to have become numb to the drumbeat of violence, as if it has just become part of the daily fabric of life in the city.

But this complacency, however it insidiously took up roost, needs to be banished by action.

‘All in’

Here are some steps the GBC and business community think would help:

First, Baltimore police are significantly understaffed for the demands of the current crime situation and need to move with due haste to hire and otherwise beef up the ranks of its officers on the streets. (They have about 2,500 sworn officers, but need more than 2,800.).

They also need to get back to the job of effective policing, including fully leveraging the power of arrest to hold suspects accountable. Special attention needs to be given to ensure that juvenile offenders who are engaged in many of the recent violent crimes are treated in a way that they appreciate and understand the consequences of their action.

Records show police arrests are down this year while crime is up – so something isn’t square. Getting back to making legal arrests not only gets bad people off the street, it will get the message out that crime won’t be tolerated.

And secondly, enhanced cooperation and collaboration between the mayor’s office, City Council, Baltimore Police Department, state’s attorney’s office and state agencies, is desperately needed. This will ensure all parties are effectively targeting repeat and violent offenders, who police believe are responsible for much of the violence, shootings and killings.

This isn’t to say this is a magic formula that will bring a swift end to the mayhem in Baltimore. But the most basic responsibility and promise of any government is to provide for the safety of its citizens. It’s going to take all vested parties to be “all in” on this, including the business community and others. But it’s high time the city deliver.

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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