Baltimore seeks groups to launch three new locations of Safe Streets anti-violence program

The Baltimore mayor's office is seeking groups to launch three new outposts of the Safe Streets anti-violence program, a step forward for a planned expansion of an approach that uses people with criminal histories to try to stop shootings.

Each of the three new sites would have annual budgets of up to $500,000, according to documents released Friday.


Mayor Catherine Pugh secured $3.6 million in state funds for the program and her proposed budget includes $1.7 million from the city, which she said eventually will be enough money to fund six sites on top of the existing four. As part of the proposed expansion, Pugh transferred oversight of the program from the Department of Health to her office.

Groups applying to manage the new sites will be required to seek the cooperation of the neighborhoods where they intend to operate. But they will have limits: City officials will only consider locations in areas ranked in the top 25 percent for gun violence in the past three years.

A program that employs independent, street-wise mediators to interrupt and prevent violence in at-risk and dangerous Baltimore neighborhoods — without involving police — will be expanded from four to 10 neighborhoods and shifted from the health department to the mayor’s criminal justice office.

James Bentley, a spokesman for Pugh, said the city aims to get three new sites up and running before looking to open three more to reach the eventual goal of 10.

Once the new contracts are awarded, Bentley said, "the team will then work to fully implement each site to ensure it is operating at a high standard."

The program approaches violent crime as a disease and aims to reach young people who are beyond existing social programs.

The groups that run the sites hire former criminals who are judged to have credibility in their communities. The contract documents emphasize that new applicants must have the ability to recruit people with that experience.

Safe Streets has been praised as an effective alternative to using police to control violence, although a recent study cast doubt on earlier figures that showed the model had driven down crime in the neighborhoods where it operates. The program also saw controversy last year when employees were accused of continuing to commit crimes.

Bentley said the mayor is prepared to put the resources into Safe Streets that it needs to be successful.


"The mayor believes in the work of Safe Streets and its potential to reduce violence in Baltimore," he said. "Safe Streets has shown it can be effective here."

A new study of Baltimore police strategies to combat gun violence from 2003 to 2017 has concluded the most effective was the so-called “hot spots” program that sent plainclothes detectives into violent neighborhoods to focus on illegal gun possession and individuals with a history of gun offenses.

Safe Streets currently operates in Cherry Hill, McElderry Park, Park Heights and Sandtown-Winchester. Bentley said the city plans to renew the contracts for those sites and boost their funding.

Organizations seeking to host one of the three new sites have until June 13 to apply.