No Magic Bullet for Baltimore’s High Homicide Rate

Policeman on duty at Inner Harbor, Baltimore (aimintang ((172324593)) via Getty Images)

As of Dec. 2, 2019, there have been 313 homicide victims this year in Baltimore, according to Baltimore Police Department (BPD) statistics reported by the Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott believes the root of this violence is lack of investment, historical inequities, and corruption at all levels of the government, and Nov. 19 he presented two bills to address these problems at the City Hall with the public and streamed online.

Bill 19-0443 addresses what Scott believes is the most pressing issue to the city: gun violence. The council wants to stop arms trafficking. The bill was moved forward as amended. The council voted 5-1, with disapproval by District 8 Councilman Kristerfer Burnett.

Burnett told JT he would like to amend the bill further.

“In theory I am good with it, but I think it can be better.” He is concerned about hyper-incarceration. “My no vote was just that I need more information.”

The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) supported this bill with a few amendments. Lt. Col. John Herzog of the Crime Investigation Division proposed a sentence extension from three to five years, to add shotgun and rifle charges, and prohibit a criminally convicted individual from possessing rifles or shotguns.

While BPD debrief individuals to find gun origins, Herzog said it needs to expand how it tracks gun sales. Herzog also mentioned the gun crime intelligence center is up to federal operational standards and “Number one for turning around those leads.”

Herzog also confirmed that many guns come from out of state.

District 1 Councilman Zeke Cohen wants to hold gun manufacturers accountable. He cited how Sandy Hook families sued Remington Arms Co. for the sale of the rifle at that shooting.

“Someone is getting rich off of our suffering,” he said. “We’ve been losing hundreds of children in our city for years and years and years,” Cohen added somberly. “Those that profit most off of that should be accountable.”

Baltimorean Dwayne Gerald Sr., 60, said he believes adding time to gun offenders is “just taking money out of someone else’s pocket.”

“Y’all making laws to further incarcerate people,” said Gerald.

He shared an anecdote from 1991, when he had just left a penitentiary and needed money.
“I bought guns off of police. I can show you where,” he said. “This is home grown.” He said that the city should focus on the “war on drugs.”

The Entire City Must Improve Its Health

Drug addiction is, however, something Bill 19-0451 aims to address. This bill requires city government to enumerate the ways its agencies can reduce violence and start to take public health actions. It was adopted with amendments, and moved to a work session.
Scott said every department plays a part in the problem.

Baltimore City Council (Wikimedia)

Cohen shared an anecdote to illustrate why the problem must be treated as a public health issue.

An officer from his district called him about a stabbing near O’Donnell Heights. “In addition to the victim who sadly died, there’s also a four year old who witnessed the incident, who had blood on his shoes as he left the house,” said Cohen.

He agreed there is a law and order component, “but we also know that often our police are first responders when in reality they may not be best equipped to deal with a four year old who’s just witnessed their parent being murdered.” The likelihood that the child himself will be a victim of violence increases, Cohen added, and the Trauma Responsive Care Act is meant to address this and other issues.

The public can monitor initiatives with the council president’s legislative and
policy tracker.

“For three years this council has been requesting a comprehensive plan,” said Scott. “We have yet to receive it,” said Scott, who believes the commissioner and mayor’s response is not tangible. “In the absence of a coordinated, comprehensive plan, a policing-only strategy becomes the default.”

Scott announced in September that he will run against Mayor Young 2020 for the mayor’s seat. Other candidates include Senator Mary Washington, former Maryland Deputy Attorney General Thiruvendran Vignarajah, and more.

The Mayor’s Position

Scott called on Mayor Bernard Jack Young to bring progress of his own crime plan to the city council. The mayor claims the plan is to follow Police Commissioner Michael Harrison’s goal of strict policing.

In a Nov. 13 interview that has since gone viral, the mayor told reporters local leadership is not responsible for the city’s homicide rate.

“I didn’t commit the murders,” he said.

“The Mayor is focused on violence reduction through reducing poverty, eliminating blight in communities and providing opportunities to youth,” said James Bentley, press secretary to the mayor. “To those ends, he has fully supported the Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund [NIIF] and he also created the Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success to address the gaps in services for our youth and families to ensure they all thrive in Baltimore City.”

The Commissioner’s Plan

City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison told WYPR he has a comprehensive plan. His solution is to increase responses, have police work better, and have more consequences.
“Prevention, intervention, enforcement, and rehabilitation,” he said. Specifically, in July he created new, focused patrol areas. These require patrol officers to make frequent contact with well-known gun offenders while on parole.

He believes the changes will take around eight years, using his experience in New Orleans as comparison.

Harrison is “disgusted with every murder.” He believes drug addiction and mental health cause the violence, and a distrust of the force aggravates the situation. He said the city’s capacity for rehabilitation are just now becoming viable. He aims to treat the illness “in all the issues that are root causes.”

Harrison also found that his force is mentally and physically overworked, which also affects preparedness. Therefore, he added measures of accountability, which brought overtime down.

Gov. Hogan has also criticized Harrison for being too “status quo”, to which Harrison replied that he in fact has many changes to the traditional policing strategy.

His five-year strategy outlines a quicker emergency response time, more foot patrols, business check-ins, new technology, and meeting with the state attorney to review cases, according to Baltimore Business Journal.

“We are getting better every single day,” said Harrison to WYPR. “I understand the urgency, though there are no quick fixes, we can get better.”

Cohen encouraged Harrison to persist at the council meeting. He told Harrison that citizens lash out from a place of hurt, but “the vast majority understands we are dealing with centuries of deep systemic violence.”

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