News coverage of GBC Newsmaker: Gun Violence in Urban America featuring book author Thomas Abt

The Daily Record:
Expert: Baltimore crime fight offers chance for substantial ROI
By Adam Bednar

Financing a targeted approach to reducing violent crime in Baltimore could create a return on investment of $135 for every dollar of backing, according to the author of a new book on urban brutality.

Thomas Abt, author of “Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets,” estimated it will cost $9 million in the first year to launch the types of initiatives in Baltimore he advocates.

“But there has to be a consensus that you’re going to follow these three principles: (No. 1) focus, we’re not going to work with everyone and everywhere, we’re going to focus on where the violence concentrates most; (No. 2) balance, we’re going to use both punishment and prevention; and then (No. 3) fairness, we’re going to do this in a way that consults with people, that people perceive as a fair and open and transparent process,” Abt said. “So you need to create consensus around, ‘This is the way we’re going to do business concerning this problem.’”

Since riots ripped through Baltimore in 2015 there have been more than 300 murders annually in the city of about 615,000 people. Violence continues at a pace to surpass that mark again this year. As of Thursday morning 169 people have been murdered in 2019, and there’s been 388 shootings.

If implemented correctly, Abt said, his approach would reduce murders by roughly 50% during an eight-year period. As a result, associated city expenditures should drop $4.4 million in year eight, and with 712 fewer murders the city saves about $7 billion in associated costs.

Formerly a policymaker with the Department of Justice in President Barack Obama’s administration, Abt addressed business leaders and spoke on a panel of local experts during the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Newsmaker Breakfast on Thursday.

Efforts to truncate the violence, Abt said, need to be targeted and balanced. That means focusing a variety of approaches, ranging from violence interruption programs like Roca Inc. to focusing policing on people committing acts of violence and the places where they’re happening.

“I don’t say comprehensive because you must remain focused on a small number of people, places and behavior,” Abt said.

A major challenge for Baltimore in accomplishing what Abt’s book suggests is continuity in leadership. Since 1999 there have been 12 police commissioners and five mayors in Baltimore. As a result, the city’s crime-fighting strategy has been in a state of constant change.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison only took over the job in March, roughly two months before the person who hired him — then-Mayor Catherine Pugh — resigned amid an ethics scandal.

Pugh’s successor, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who had been the City Council president, initially said he didn’t plan to run to keep the job. On Wednesday, with the Democratic primary set for April, he still hasn’t decided whether he will run to keep the position.

“Everything that could’ve happened when I became mayor has happened, and I’m getting it done. Everything that could’ve happened (malware attack on city computers), Poe Homes (losing water), water main breaks, it’s happened … personally I think I have the right to keep my options open,” Young said.

In order to break the cycle of ever-changing crime-fighting schemes, Abt said, Baltimore needs to build a strategy with broad support able to withstand the regular leadership churn at City Hall and police headquarters.

“Some cities manage to have success and sustain it, and some cities have initial success but then fail to sustain it. That’s really a matter of political leadership.”