As Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott works to implement an ambitious plan for curbing the city’s rampant gun violence, his strategy has caught the attention of a national organization dedicated to promoting a public health approach to anti-violence work.
Cities United chose Baltimore as the site of its ninth annual conference focused on re-imagining public safety that organizers said will draw more than 450 attendees, including local government leaders and community-based, philanthropic, public safety and faith-based organizations from more than 75 cities. The conference will take place this week at the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor, Scott announced Wednesday afternoon.
“We all know this work is not easy. It cannot be done in a vacuum and it won’t change what we’re seeing overnight,” he said during a news conference. “But together, we can create the change that will help change the trajectory of younger generations.”
Scott, who has made anti-violence work central to his mayoral platform, presented a detailed plan to address Baltimore’s persistent gun violence last year, pledging to reduce shootings by 15% annually.
The city remains on pace to surpass 300 homicides for the eighth year running, though recent months have seen a notable reduction in shootings. The city has recorded 277 homicides so far in 2022, compared to 272 this time last year.
Anthony Smith, executive director of Cities United, said the group chose Baltimore for their conference because organizers believe other cities can learn from its ongoing efforts, which he said bode well for the future.
“I’m not saying Baltimore has got it all figured out,” he said, describing a promising combination of innovation and investment. “I think they’re moving in the right direction and we’ll start seeing the impact of the work over the next couple years.”
Among other things, the conference will include site visits to several Baltimore organizations involved in Scott’s anti-violence strategy.
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“We are building an ecosystem that integrates each critical part of community violence intervention,” said Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which oversees the strategy. “I am proud that Baltimore is leading the way in this work.”
Central to the strategy is Safe Streets, a program that employs “credible messengers” to de-escalate conflicts and discourage interpersonal beefs. City officials recently announced a restructuring of the program to increase oversight by consolidating management of its 10 Baltimore sites.
Scott also has relaunched a “focused deterrence” program meant to target a small group of at-risk people by offering them services to help them avoid becoming involved in crime. That intervention model, which is widely known and has been previously implemented in Baltimore with little success, was launched on a pilot basis in the Western District early this year.
Other efforts currently underway include expanding hospital-based and school-based violence intervention programs.
Baltimore is one of 16 jurisdictions participating in a White House initiative launched last year to address rising gun violence using money from the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that Congress passed in March 2021.
Taking a holistic approach to curbing violence — and addressing its root causes by expanding access to various opportunities, especially for young Black men — suggests a promising path forward in Baltimore, Smith said, and adequate investment is key.
“Some of these programs are not new, but they haven’t previously been funded at this capacity,” he said.