WASHINGTON — — Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley has spent much of the year defending his crime-fighting strategy during his tenure as Baltimore mayor — an effort that reduced crime while drastically increasing the number of arrests in the city.
At the first Democratic debate Tuesday in Las Vegas, O'Malley trotted out a pair of talking points he's been using recently on crime — one tied to city homicides and another dealing with arrests.
"We've saved over a thousand lives in Baltimore in the last 15 years [with] people working together," O'Malley said during the debate. "And the vast majority of them were young and poor and black."
O'Malley was elected mayor in 1999 on a promise to reduce homicides in Baltimore to 175 a year. In 2000, his first full year in office, there were 261 killings, down from 305 in 1999. O'Malley never hit his target. Homicides were up at the end of 2006, his last year in City Hall, to 276.
Assuming that his "over a thousand" figure is based on homicides — his campaign declined to clarify —- the city recorded 874 fewer homicides when the past 15 years are compared with the count in 1999, and the difference of each year is added.
O'Malley was mayor for seven of those 15 years. While the state does play a role in fighting crime in Baltimore, O'Malley as governor was not always in sync with the leaders who succeeded him in Baltimore. Hs immediate successor, Sheila Dixon, adopted a different policing strategy, focused more on community policing than zero tolerance.
O'Malley and the current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, have also been at odds over arrests. As recently as 2013, O'Malley publicly blamed her administration for a spike in crime, arguing that it was caused in part by declining arrests under her watch.
The former governor stands on firmer ground when he sticks to overall crime, which fell significantly under his tenure. Baltimore's total incidence of crime — measured by the FBI as violent and property crime — declined 43 percent from 2000 to 2010. That was the largest reduction of any major city, according to an analysis of FBI data for 28 cities with populations over 580,000.
O'Malley has been making another assertion about arrests, saying that the number "had actually fallen to a 38-year low in the year prior to … Freddie Gray's tragic death."
"Arrests peaked in 2003," he said, "but they declined every year after that as we restored peace in our poorer neighborhoods so that people could actually walk and not have to worry about their kids or their loved ones being victims of violent crime."
O'Malley's campaign provided arrest data back to 1999 — the year O'Malley took office — not for 38 years. A review of that data shows the number of arrests by city police fell to 50,429 in 2013 compared with 110,167 in 2003.