Baltimore state's attorney discounts connection between unrest and homicide surge

Mosby discounts connection between unrest and homicide surge

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby discounted a connection between this summer's surge in murders and the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, saying she believes it is a "cyclical" uptick connected to the city's old zero-tolerance policies.

Mosby, appearing on WMAR-TV/ABC2's "Square Off" program, was responding to Maryland Shock Trauma physician-in-chief Dr. Thomas Scalea, who said the crime spike "seems temporally related to the riots."

The discussion will air 11 a.m. Sunday.

"I tend to disagree," Mosby said. "I think the violence was already going up. When you look at January, it was already like 28 murders."

Mosby said so-called "zero-tolerance" policies, implemented during the tenure of former Mayor Martin O'Malley, had eroded trust of law enforcement in many Baltimore neighborhoods and was fueling this year's spike by making residents less inclined to help police solve crimes.

"I think violence is cyclical, and I think we're seeing the effects of policies that have not worked," she said, citing zero tolerance. "I mean, there's a number of old policies that we are seeing the result of. That distrust of communities, where communities don't want to step forward and say who killed a 3-year-old — it's a direct result of these failed policies."

This year, Baltimore had recorded 65 homicides in 109 days as of April 25 — the first day of disturbances following Gray's death. By that same date, the city had seen 54 homicides in 2014, 66 in 2013, 59 in 2012, and 65 in 2011, data show.

The number of killings has increased significantly since then, with 158 people killed in 130 days from April 25 through the end of August, including 45 homicides in July alone.

The city is on pace to see more than 300 killing in the calendar year — a first since 1999. Just four years ago, killings dipped below 200 for the first time since the 1970s.

Still, many agree that Gray's death exposed long-simmering tensions in communities, including resentment over policing tactics to include zero tolerance, which city officials disavowed by 2008.

In a panel discussion at Mount St. Mary's University on Wednesday, former Commissioner Anthony Batts pointed to zero tolerance as the roots of the April riot. He blamed the spike in violence, however, on officers "taking a knee" because they did not feel supported after Mosby's office filed criminal charges against six officers in Gray's death.

On "Square Off," host Richard Sher pressed the panelists, which also included interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and WBAL radio host Clarence Mitchell IV, for answers to the city's violence woes.

Davis pledged better efforts toward foot patrols, while Mosby said she's working to improve community trust through a six-week program for 30 youths and open houses at the courthouse. Both said police and prosecutors are working together and targeting the most violent offenders.

Davis said 238 "trigger pullers" have been identified and authorities are building cases against them.

"Police officers get them off the street, my prosecutors get into court and try to convict them. But it's the community that comes forward and … are the ones to testify and say, 'This is the one who did it,'" Mosby said.

Mitchell said violent offenders don't receive harsh enough penalties in court. Mosby said, "It's not the prosecutors who make these sentencing recommendations, it's the bench," referring to judges.

Mosby said there should be a "renewed focus on guns," but that there are not enough discussions about "systemic and structural issues."

"We're not talking about the economics. And I think that's the biggest problem," Mosby said.

Davis said conflict resolution may be as big an issue as illegal guns. He said police officers had seized 44 percent more guns this summer compared with last summer.

"Logic would seem to dictate that would coincide with a drop in violent crime," Davis said. "It has not. So if I have a gun in my waistband or under the front seat of my car, and I'm not in a place emotionally to handle conflict, I'm going to go right to my gun."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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