Influential BUILD group calls on Pugh to release anti-violence strategy

Some 200 members of an influential group of churches and community organizations rallied near the home of a 97-year-old homicide victim Wednesday to urge Mayor Catherine Pugh to release a comprehensive strategy to fight violence.

"Our mayor says she has a plan to reduce violence," said the Rev. Marshall Prentice, a leader of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development. "Has anyone seen the plan?"

"No," the crowd called back.

"Madam mayor, show us the plan," Prentice said.

As violent crime in the city has soared, Pugh has faced mounting calls to spell out a response. So far this year, 206 people have been killed in the city.

While the mayor has said she has a written crime and violence plan, she has not made it public. Last week, she summarized her efforts to lean on state and federal resources for help while also focusing on gang members and so-called trigger-pullers. The Police Department, meanwhile, has reassigned 150 officers to special squads intended to tackle the most crime-ridden parts of the city.

Pugh said Wednesday that consultants were reviewing her plan and it would be released soon. She said she wanted to be strategic rather than just rushing something out.

“I'm not just throwing stuff up on the wall,” she said. “This is about real solutions to a real problem.”

Pugh said she hasn't been standing still while the plan is developed — she noted she has worked to improve the technology available to police and to bring more state probation workers to Baltimore. She has said increasing collaboration between probation officers and city police would help ensure violent parole violators are sent back to jail.

“I think it's obvious that I'm doing something,” she said. “I'm not standing on the street corners shouting.”

BUILD members said any plan should include input from business and charity leaders, along with police and politicians. If the mayor does not have a plan, BUILD offered to help her craft one.

The group called for the police union and city officials to finalize contract negotiations, and for officers to focus on patrol duties and target known violent offenders.

The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, another of the group's leaders, said the unprecedented violence in the city has shaken people. His group met with supporters near the home of Waddell Tate, who was found bludgeoned to death in his home last month.

“The level of fear that people are experiencing right now across neighborhoods is a shared fear,” Connors said.

BUILD leaders said the event would be the first in a series to solicit ideas from the public on how to battle crime. After Prentice and others spoke and prayed, volunteers in bright blue shirts fanned out into the street to ask people in the area for their thoughts.

As BUILD called on the mayor to lay out her vision, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, led by Councilman Brandon M. Scott, offered its own ideas Wednesday, proposing short-term efforts to boost the number of officers on the streets and longer-term plans to tackle social ills believed to drive crime. Some of the objectives have target dates of 2025.

“I've been saying since January that this is what we needed,” Scott said.

Scott has emerged in recent weeks as a leading critic of Pugh, summoning members of her administration to a public hearing on crime only to abruptly dismiss them, saying the ideas they had to present were insufficient. But Scott said the release of his plan was not intended as a rebuke.

“This is not in competition, this is not in opposition,” he said. “What we’re saying is we don't know what they have going on, but even if they have something going, this is what we believe.”

The ideas in Scott’s plan range from the broad to the highly specific and roam into areas not directly connected to violent crime. They include reducing the number of students who miss more than a tenth of the school year, boosting the role of fathers in city families and expanding a nighttime basketball league.

The plan also touches on more traditional crime-fighting ideas that the committee thinks could help in the short term. It proposes hiring auxiliary police officers to help with simple duties, revising the current police shift schedule, doing more to prosecute gun offenders, tracking gun cases and expanding the Safe Streets program.

Scott said the details for how to achieve some of the objectives would have to be hammered out by experts, but that the committee wanted to at least provide a starting point.

“This is the conversation starter,” he said.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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