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Crime

Debates spark over Baltimore police protection strategies as rising bloodshed puts neighborhoods on edge

Gunfire rang out this month on Boarman Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, lined with trees and rowhouses with porches, frightening nearby residents. Five people were injured, police said, just hours after four people were shot in East Baltimore, including one man who died.

That night, Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton fielded calls from concerned residents, some of whom had heard the hail of gunfire on the avenue as they prepared for bed. Cynthia Foote, of the Towanda Neighborhood Association in Northwest Baltimore, is one who called, expressing frustration about what she sees as a lack of immediate efforts by police and the mayor to address escalating crime.

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“We need to do something right now,” Foote wants city leaders to know. “You can give us this long-term stuff, but what are you doing right now?”

The shooting in Middleton’s district joined the latest spate of violence shaking the city. Elsewhere, it included the death of a pregnant woman and the child’s father, as well as a teen killed after his junior prom. A man was killed Saturday in Sharp-Leadenhall in South Baltimore, police said.

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The bloodshed has prompted Middleton and some other city leaders to question Mayor Brandon Scott’s plans, such as the progress of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, known as MONSE. It was created by the Democratic mayor in 2020 to address the root causes of violence. They also are questioning Police Commissioner Michael Harrison’s plan to address crime.

“We’ve got to be creative and try to get through the summer into the fall,” Middleton said in an interview.

Middleton was among six councilmembers who Thursday issued a list of demands to Scott’s administration ahead of hearings on the city’s next budget. In letters to Harrison, who is appointed by the mayor, and Shantay Jackson, director of MONSE, the group called for a short-term crime plan from police, as well as information about MONSE’s use of federal funding to reduce gun violence.

They also requested by June 3 an inventory of police assets, as well as plans to coordinate with other law enforcement agencies, increase the use of civilian employees, use overtime, increase clearance rates and expand the use of license plate reader technology.

Baltimore’s level of violence is “beyond comprehension” Councilman Eric Costello, backed by Middleton, Mark Conway, Antonio Glover, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Robert Stokes, indicated at a news conference Thursday. They are Democrats, as are the other members of the 15-person council.

Costello wrote, “Our residents and communities need relief, and they need it now.”

It’s unclear whether Scott’s administration will respond to their requests, although Costello has said he expects it will.

Scott pushed back Friday at the suggestion that his administration and city police need a new short-term plan to address violence. He did not say whether he would provide the sought-after information.

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“The reality is — for me — the things that they’re requesting are things that we’re doing,” Scott said.

Scott pointed to improved arrest figures for homicides, robberies and aggravated assault so far this year. Officers arrested 50 people for killings by May 14, compared to 44 by that date last year. The department has made 31 additional robbery arrests and 73 additional assault arrests compared to last year. To be sure, citywide homicide and shooting numbers are up.

“You see the police officers making that arrest. You see those folks interceding in violence. You see what Safe Streets does each and every day,” Scott said, referring to one of the city’s violence interruption programs. “That’s an immediate stop of violence.”

More importantly, Scott said, city officials — including councilmembers — need to focus on how they can “apply pressure to the complete system” to improve outcomes for individuals following arrests or other interventions.

One councilman balked at the idea of a new short-term violence plan. Ryan Dorsey called the request “theater” in a series of tweets Friday.

“Demanding a ‘short-term crime plan’ is just code for: ‘Giving all the money to cops isn’t working at all, and now I’m all out of ideas,’” Dorsey wrote.

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Under Scott’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, the police department would receive a $5 million increase, bringing its budget to $560.4 million.

Apart from demanding a new action plan, Costello’s letter targeted $13 million of a $50 million American Rescue Plan allocation to MONSE. The money is earmarked for a Group Violence Reduction Strategy, which uses street-level intelligence to identify neighborhood rivalries driving violence and directs people to services to keep them off the streets.

A pilot operates in the police department’s Western District through a partnership with MONSE and nonprofit organizations, including a Youth Advocate Program. The nonprofit has reported six referrals to offer support, according to Costello’s letter.

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“At this pace, MONSE will fail to even get close to the target it set for itself of enrolling 125 participants in case management services in Year One,” Costello wrote.

Ray Kelly, founder of the Citizens Policing Project, which advocates for more civilian oversight of the police department, said he supports demands for transparency and accountability.

”We want to know where this money’s going. Are we making the best investment of our public safety dollars? Is it working?” he said. “If not, do we change it? Because that is a lot of money.”

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But Kelly cautioned against quick fixes.

”We can’t just demand a short-term plan. We have to figure out how to have a successful launch of the long-term plan,” he said. “We know overpolicing and mass incarceration doesn’t work.”

He called for more investment in programs and services, such as drug treatment programs.

Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo contributed to this article.


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