With a homicide a day in 2017, Pugh says Baltimore crime-fighting strategy is 'not working'

In Baltimore, 42 people have been killed in first 40 days of 2017.

With Baltimore suffering more than a homicide a day to start 2017, Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that the city's crime-fighting strategy has not been enough to stem the killings, and her administration is searching for solutions.

Forty-two people were killed in the first 39 days of the year — more than twice as many as in the same period in 2016. More than 112 people have been shot.

The carnage has exceeded the pace set in 2015, the deadliest year per capita in city history, with 344 killings.

"This strategy that we have in place is not working to the extent we need it to," Pugh said.

She noted that police shot and killed an 18-year-old man Tuesday, one day after he was released from jail. The unidentified teen was out on bail after being charged with gun and drug felonies.

Police said the teen had a gun when an officer shot him.

"It shows dysfunction, I believe, in our criminal justice system," Pugh said of that case. "People who have those many gun charges probably should not be on our streets.

"We've got a crime problem in our city. We've got a lot of work to do."

Pugh said she's meeting with experts from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and New York-based Bloomberg Philanthropies to seek solutions. She called a meeting of nearly 100 community members last week to discuss a different direction for the city.

"While I know that gun violence is a major problem in our city, I also know that police can't solve this problem by themselves," she said.

Pugh said the urgency of the problem hit home this week as she read to third-grade students. One student asked her: "How do you make us feel safe?"

"You know that when third-graders are thinking about it, that kindergartners are thinking about it," she said. "This is serious business. We've got to get to the bottom of it."

The mayor recently authorized police to hire 100 additional officers to patrol Baltimore's streets. That move came after Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said in January he would reassign 100 of the department's officers to patrol duty.

The police union had said the city was "at great risk" because there are not enough officers to adequately cover patrol shifts.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said all city agencies have been meeting at the mayor's direction to "discuss methods to effectively drive down crime from a holistic approach."

"The police commissioner and mayor are in constant contact with each other," Smith said in a statement. "He has publicly stated how the crime fight extends beyond just the Police Department and that has been evident over the last several weeks."

City Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the public safety committee, said he's calling various city agencies, including health and housing, before the panel to discuss what can be done.

"How can we work with the young people most at risk so they don't end up the victim or the perpetrators of violence?" he said. "What can every single government agency do to work in those areas?"

Scott noted that the number of killings in the city fell below 200 in 2011 for the first time since the late 1970s. The number has topped 300 in each of the last two years.

"We have to get back to a constitutional version of the policing strategy we had in 2011," Scott said. "It wasn't that long ago we had the lowest homicide rate."

The violence in Baltimore stands out among large U.S. cities. There were 32 killings in January in the city of 620,000. There were just 20 during the same month in New York, a city of 8.4 million.

Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said Baltimore officers "have to be proactive."

"They have to confront criminals again," he said. "What's been harmful is the idea that police shouldn't enforce quality-of-life issues."

Moskos said that when the Department of Justice released details of its investigation of policing in the city last summer, there was "nothing in that report about preventing crime."

"There's a lot of clear direction on what we don't want cops to do," he said. "But what do we want cops to do?"

In New York, Moskos said, "there is a sense that there are consequences here for wrongdoing that I think are largely absent in Baltimore."

Munir Bahar, co-founder of the anti-violence 300 Men March, said he left Pugh's crime meeting last week disappointed.

He wants to see more funding and support for community-led anti-crime groups.

"The sense is you can do what you want and get away with it," Bahar said. "The community groups that can provide that direct intervention are being ignored."

Mark Washington of the Coldstream/Homestead/Montebello Community Corp. said he felt the meeting was productive. He said Pugh is "spot on" in her assessment and that she is trying to be proactive.

"I would like to see the mayor continue to have these calls to action," Washington said. "I'd like for her to continue these dialogues."

Marcus "Strider" Dent, Baltimore chapter commander of the Guardian Angels — which walks patrols in high-crime areas — said he's had eight requests in the past three weeks for the group to visit different neighborhoods.

"People want something done," Dent said. "We need neighborhood watch. We need people in the streets to say what's going on. We need to get the community involved so that they care more and it matters more. When is enough, enough?"

Dent said he believes Davis is doing a good job, but a violent drug trade is deeply entrenched in Baltimore's economy.

He said community leaders need to work hand in hand with police to stem the violence.

"People don't feel safe enough to dial 911 anonymously," Dent said. "The community can win, if the community pulls together with the support of the police and public officials."

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

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