Baltimore Police told members of the City Council’s public safety committee that this year’s rise in shootings was attributable to petty disputes and a proliferation of guns.
“It’s no gang wars or anything going on,” Col. Richard Worley, the chief of patrol, said Wednesday afternoon. “There are a lot of people carrying guns. With so many guns out there, we’re getting people getting shot over things that are ridiculous.”
Worley said one recent shooting involved family members arguing over who could use the shower.
He noted that gun arrests in the city are up 37% compared to the same time last year.
Homicides are up slightly over the same time last year, as are nonfatal shootings.
Overall crime is down significantly, continuing a trend during the pandemic. Citing those drops, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said last week she would keep in place a ban on arrests for offenses like simple drug possession, prostitution and other lower-level crimes.
Councilmember Zeke Cohen, who represents Southeastern Baltimore, praised the move as an end to the drug war, but other council members questioned Police Commissioner Michael Harrison about details of the policy.
Councilman Antonio Glover, who represents East Baltimore, said that he is troubled by open-air drug dealing in his district.
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“You can clearly see — Stevie Wonder can see — what’s going on right in the community,” Glover said. “I’m afraid our children will be caught up in this mess. I hope we’re not taking our eyes off the bigger prize, and that’s individuals dealing drugs, doing it front of our face.”
Councilman Eric Costello said he was unclear about the standards for what drug crimes police and prosecutors will continue to pursue.
Harrison said police would still arrest people for drug distribution, if officers witness a hand-to-hand transaction or can prove that drugs found in someone’s possession is packaged or a size beyond personal consumption.
“People will complain to my office, to our district commanders every day, and want officers to make arrests,” Harrison said. “It’s not always possible for us to make an arrest if the officer did not observe hand-to-hand transactions; that’s the hardest thing to communicate to citizens.”
Costello who represents parts of South Baltimore and areas downtown, said he remained concerned.
“My hope is that the police department is able to articulate the criteria, because if they’re not able to, I’m concerned that police officers don’t know what the criteria is, and therefore not in position to carry out their duty in this specific area,” he said.
Harrison said police would also continue to investigate human trafficking cases while not making prostitution arrests. “The community has my commitment and BPD’s commitment to pursuing human traffickers and people who are participating in trafficking people against their will,” he told the council.