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O'Malley: Less enforcement means more homicides

By 1999, Baltimore had become the most violent and addicted big city in America.

In 2000, we started to roll back the violence of the city's open air drug markets. Police and neighbors were asked to believe, and were asked to do more based on that belief.

By 2009 — with steady progress — Baltimore had the largest reduction in total crime and property crime and the second largest reduction in violent crime from 2000-2009 of the 20 largest cities in the country.

There was never a headline and barely a story about this in The Baltimore Sun, so it is understandable that the editorial board and current reporting staff missed it.

Earlier and smarter interventions in the lives of vulnerable young people and increased access to drug treatment were big parts of the equation. But, so too, was a higher level of enforcement effort by the Baltimore Police Department.

There was nothing "mass" about the greater amount of enforcement or the greater number of arrests. Each arrest was individual. Many courageous officers gave their lives to make Baltimore safer.

Despite the protests of the ideologues on the left — who see all increases in arrests, police response or enforcement as bad — discourtesy and excessive force complaints actually went down. Fatal police involved shootings and custodial deaths also went down. For the first time in a long time, residents in our poorest neighborhoods felt safer because they were made safer.

Today — even with smarter and more effective family and youth interventions, even with much greater access to drug treatment — homicides are going up for the second year in a row, and shootings are up year to date.

Why?

I believe it has to do with the fact that enforcement levels and police response have fallen to 13-year lows. Others may disagree. That is their right. Many disagreed in 1999, and we had an election to resolve our differences. Then we moved forward to achieve the biggest crime reductions of any major city in America.

Surely, together, we can find a better balance between the zero-tolerance levels of enforcement at the outset of our turn-around in 2000 and the low levels of police response and enforcement that we are experiencing in the city today.

So long as levels of enforcement continue to decline, shootings and homicides will continue to go up.

Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, is Maryland's governor. He served as Baltimore mayor from 1999-2007. His email is governor@maryland.gov.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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