The Baltimore Health Department suspended its Safe Streets anti-violence program in West Baltimore after a second outreach worker was arrested in less than two weeks.
The heralded program, modeled after those in other cities and run by community groups with public funding overseen by the city Health Department, enlists former offenders to help negotiate disputes between gang members and drug dealers before they lead to gun violence. The criminal pasts of the ex-convicts are supposed to give them credibility when brokering the peace.
Levar Mullen, one such employee, was arrested Sunday and charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance and handgun violations. Last month, Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale, a former heroin dealer, was accused in a federal indictment of continuing to deal drugs as a member of the Black Guerrilla Family gang.
After Barksdale's arrest, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake voiced her strong support for the program, saying she would not let "one person" destroy it.
On Wednesday, her support didn't waver.
"The Mayor is confident that the Health Department is taking the correct course in meeting with the Mondawmin site and reviewing policies, procedures and protocols," spokesman Kevin Harris said. "While we take these allegations seriously, they should not be an indictment against Safe Streets."
Mullen and Barksdale worked in Safe Streets' Mondawmin branch, which employs about five outreach workers in West Baltimore neighborhoods.
In October, Darrell Berry, another outreach worker in the office, was killed in an unsolved shooting. City officials said Berry's killing was not related to his work.
After Mullen's arrest, city Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot put the Mondawmin branch on probation so the staff could be "retrained." She said the process could last two weeks or more.
"We have every reason to believe that with some additional technical assistance, they'll be back on the road again to be successful," Barbot said. "With these measures in place, the Mondawmin site will continue to be successful."
Safe Streets programs elsewhere in the city continue to operate.
Barbot said the criminal activity of which Barksdale and Mullen are accused showed "no linkage to their roles as Safe Street workers."
The Mondawmin neighborhood is one of the most violent areas in the city's deadliest police district. Police statistics released this week show that 41 of the city's 218 homicides this year have occurred in West Baltimore — a 52 percent increase for the area compared with the same time last year.
Despite the surge in killings, Barbot said, the Mondawmin branch has been effective in resolving conflict. In the past year, she said, the program mediated 130 disputes that could have turned violent.
A group of outreach workers in orange jackets from the Mondawmin program marched through the Parkview/Woodbrook neighborhood last Friday to call for peace after the recent killing of a 48-year-old man.
Mullen, 33, was convicted of murder in 2005 and sentenced to 30 years in prison with all but eight years suspended, state court records show.
Police said in court filings that officers stopped his vehicle in the Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore on Saturday night after an officer was told that he dealt drugs in the area and often carried a handgun.
"Mullen informed Detective Frieman that he is on parole for murder and that he was not in possession of any guns or drugs because of his job with 'Safe Streets,'" officers wrote in charging documents.
But police said they searched him and found a fully loaded .45-caliber Glock handgun. Neither Mullen's attorney nor representatives for the Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council, which runs the Safe Streets branch, could be reached for comment.
The suspension was at least the second time a Safe Streets operation was halted temporarily since the program began in 2007.
In 2010, federal authorities tied one of Safe Streets' East Baltimore sites to the Black Guerrilla Family, causing Rawlings-Blake to freeze funding to two sites so a task force could study the program.
The funding was later restored, and the Safe Streets program has since expanded to more neighborhoods, including Cherry Hill and Park Heights.
Baltimore Sun reporter Nayana Davis contributed to this article.
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