Baltimore’s top criminal justice leaders met for hours Monday to discuss a long-term plan they say will reduce gun violence in the city that has struggled for decades to curb shootings and homicides.
Mayor Brandon Scott, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the latest iteration of the gun violence reduction strategy will work now, the third time around, because of their inter-agency collaboration, dedicated resources and a united philosophy on how to solve gun violence.
“While we need the hammer of the justice system for violent offenders, we also know we need community outreach, and services, and programming to connect with people before they reach the justice system,” Mosby said.
Monday’s meeting at the New Shiloh Baptist Church on Monroe Street in West Baltimore, was intended to “make sure we set a baseline for all of the folks who are going to be helping us do this work,” said Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which is spearheading the gun violence prevention strategy. The so-called Group Violence Reduction Strategy will launch in West Baltimore, which has been particularly hard hit by gun violence.
Mosby, Scott and Harrison spoke at the beginning of the meeting before reporters were told to leave. The remainder of the meeting was not public because leaders would discuss privileged information, including individual criminal history information, Jackson said in an interview.
The plan is to use street-level intelligence to identify rivalries among street gangs and groups driving the city’s violence and then help them, whether by offering a safe place to stay, addiction treatment, employment help or whatever is needed to keep them off the streets.
“It’s about keeping people safe, alive and free, and making sure we aren’t over relying on policing of folks,” Jackson said.
She attributed the past failures to launch and sustain focused deterrence programs to a lack of political will and collaboration and to poorly trained police officers. She said the city didn’t commit the necessary resources for the men who did want to change.
But now, Jackson said, the mayor, the state’s attorney and the police commissioner are aligned in their approach and goals. Jackson said police officers are better trained because of a federal consent decree overseeing the department, and that about 50 officers will be specially trained as part of the strategy. The city also already has awarded $1.2 million to Youth Advocate Programs, a nonprofit that will do the heavy lifting of outreach in West Baltimore.
The program will focus initially on the Western District, which is one of the smaller police districts but has had 41 homicides this year, the most of all nine districts.
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“There is a long road ahead,” Scott said at the meeting. “[Group Violence Reduction Strategy] won’t produce overnight results, but it will be a strong intervention.”
But Scott said the strategy will pay off.
“Cities that have done this and stuck with it have gotten significant results,” he said, citing Oakland, California.
Harrison said that as violence has risen in cities across the country, similar initiatives are becoming widely seen as a best practice.
He called it a “deliberate and purposeful departure from past practice. We must acknowledge that past public safety practices have failed to keep our communities safe from violence.”
The strategy still requires police and prosecutors to tackle those causing the violence, the proponents said.
“We are now working to cure a disease, rather than our historical approach of treating symptoms,” Harrison said.