Confronted with a bloody start to 2014, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will keep police curfew centers open longer, offer larger rewards for gun crime tips and implement a full-scale "Operation Ceasefire" program in Baltimore — a strategy that's been successful in other cities.
The mayor plans to focus the majority of Monday afternoon's State of the City speech on what her administration is doing to address the violence. Homicides are up by 80 percent in 2014 compared with last year, though total violent crime is down by 29 percent.
Rawlings-Blake said she remains committed to an overarching strategy of targeted arrests of the most dangerous offenders, but acknowledged the need to adjust some "tactics." For instance, instead of using specialized units to investigate crimes in four areas of Baltimore, the Police Department has begun increased patrols by uniformed officers in 17 areas of the city, she said.
"The goal is to interrupt the cycle of violence," Rawlings-Blake said Sunday. She said anti-violence initiatives make up a majority of her remarks "because that's how I spend a majority of my time."
Under the proposals, Baltimore will create year-round "Youth Connection Centers," which will take the place of the city's juvenile curfew center where teens who stay out too late are taken by police during summer months. The city will fund rewards of up $1,000 for tips to Metro Crime Stoppers that lead to the seizure of illegal guns. The mayor is increasing staffing in Baltimore's expansive CitiWatch surveillance center. She's also implementing criminologist David M. Kennedy's "Operation Ceasefire" program, which was successful at targeting gun violence in Boston.
The mayor, who recently met with Kennedy in New York at John Jay College, said some parts of the program have been used before in Baltimore, but never the entire strategy.
"Ceasefire is an enhancement and broadening of our focus on violent offenders," Rawlings-Blake said. "This is the full model and this model has been nationally recognized."
Operation Ceasefire is based on the belief that a relatively small number of the worst offenders commit a disproportionate number of crimes. It includes an increased effort to make arrests in high-crime areas along with heightened penalties, such as lengthy federal sentences. At the same time, offenders are warned of the penalties, and offered assistance with leaving a criminal lifestyle. Kennedy has visited Baltimore several times throughout the years to offer advice and several aspects of his plans are already in place.
City Council members said Sunday the administration is right to make curbing violent crime its top priority. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said it's difficult for the city to move forward on other matters until the violence is suppressed.
"She's focusing on what's on everyone's mind: Crime," Clarke said. "Until we get a handle on that, it's hard to talk about any thing else. She's listening and she's responding."
Clarke said she particularly liked the idea of expanding the curfew centers.
"Year-round curfew centers will give us a way to help get young people off the streets for their own safety with the shooting that's been going on," she said. "It also will limit the number of juveniles who will get involved with shootings and criminal activities."
Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the council's public safety committee, said he endorsed the proposals in the speech.
"Extending curfew centers' hours, Operation Ceasefire, those are things I've personally been advocating for years," he said. "We have to stop looking at crime as just a police problem. I'm the biggest criticizer of Police Commissioner [Anthony] Batts, but we have to remain engaged as citizens as well."
Baltimore achieved a decades-low homicide total in 2011 with 197 killings, but has seen increases each of the last two years with 235 homicides last year.
The southeast part of the city has been on edge after a series of high-profile crimes this year, including the robbery of a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint on her way to school, the beating of a young man with a brick during a robbery; and the fatal stabbing of a local bartender in her own home. Two young teenagers have been charged in that case.
But the crimes have not been limited to certain areas. Last week, a 35-year-old woman was found dead behind a West Arlington home. In Carrollton Ridge, a grocery store was the site of a double shooting that left a store employee dead in January. Also last month, a high school student was fatally stabbed in front of Frederick Elementary School.
Leo Burroughs Jr., president of the Memorial Apartments Residents Association, said he doesn't believe Baltimore's violence will be reduced until more of its residents are employed.
"You've got to create jobs in the Inner City," he said. "There has to be a Marshall Plan for the work force here. Not enough of that is being done. If you don't have a job, you're going to engage in nefarious activities."
Rawlings-Blake often talks about her plans to improve the city's long-term fiscal health. She plans to expand a tax credit for builders of apartment complexes and highlight the efforts of her administration in addressing a projected structural deficit. About half of Baltimore's $750 million structural deficit has been wiped out through cuts and changes to health care, pensions and employees' work schedules, the mayor said.
She also plans to tout some of the businesses moving into Baltimore and a 1,100 increase to Baltimore's overall population. More than 1,000 jobs will be created when Amazon opens a warehouse in Southeast Baltimore, and 1,700 jobs will be available when the Horseshoe Casino opens on Russell Street.
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