Declaring the war on drugs over in Baltimore, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Friday she will make permanent her COVID-19 policy to dismiss all criminal charges for the possession of drugs including heroin.
The city’s top prosecutor also said she will continue to dismiss criminal cases for nonviolent crimes of attempted drug distribution, prostitution, trespassing, open containers and minor traffic offenses. Since her office stopped taking these cases one year ago, prosecutors have dismissed 1,400 criminal cases and a similar number of warrants, she said.
Violent crime, meanwhile, has declined about 20% so far this year compared to the same three months of last year, largely before the coronavirus pandemic, according to police statistics. Similarly, property crime declined 35% when comparing those time periods.
“Clearly, the data suggests that there is no public safety value in prosecuting these low-level offenses,” Mosby said.
She made her announcement Friday outside the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in her first public appearance since The Baltimore Sun reported last week of a federal criminal tax investigation into the state’s attorney and her husband, City Council President Nick Mosby. She did not discuss the investigation and directed all questions on the matter to her attorney.
An hour later, Mayor Brandon Scott held a press conference and was asked about the federal investigation into the Mosbys. He declined to comment. Federal prosecutors issued subpoenas to several churches, a children’s nonprofit and a campaign treasurer seeking records of donations and other financial documents related to the Mosbys.
In March of last year, Mosby instituted her policy to dismiss all criminal cases of drug possession, saying she wanted to reduce the prison population and risk of a coronavirus outbreak behind bars. The policy fell in line with other progressive strategies she has brought to Baltimore, including a plan started in 2019 to dismiss all marijuana charges.
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Under Mosby’s COVID-19 policy, drug arrests have declined about 80% over last year, according to her office. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said commanders rewrote the guidelines for officers after Mosby stopped prosecuting cases of drug possession. Mosby’s actions come as the possession of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs remain illegal under state law.
Mosby noted 911 calls for drug use, prostitution and public intoxication did not increase over the past year. In fact, she said the number of 911 calls for drugs declined by one-third compared to the same months before the pandemic. The 911 calls for sex work fell by half, she said.
In an interview, Harrison said officers are encouraged not to arrest someone for drugs, sex work or the other crimes listed by Mosby. Rather, they are encouraged to try to connect the person with help from social services or addiction treatment. If such an arrest is absolutely necessary, an officer would typically ask his or her supervisor for approval, Harrison said.
The commissioner said the pandemic likely had an effect on the decline in street crime by keeping people home who would otherwise become victims. He said he expects the arrest policies to remain in place, meaning officers will make arrests for drugs, sex work and other nonviolent offenses only rarely.
During her news conference, Mosby also announced a city partnership with Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. to direct people with drug addiction and those suffering mental-health crises to receive support and treatment — not a prison sentence. The center already is funded by state and federal grant money and will not cost the city more money, officials said.
“The concept is to provide a behavioral health rather than a criminal justice response” said Edgar Wiggins, the group’s executive director. “We have known for some time that this can be an effective way to address the underlying causes of this behavior.”