At a gun violence talk hosted by the Greater Baltimore Committee, city officials and gun violence experts testified to the limits and shortcomings of the criminal justice system — at every stage from law enforcement to the court system.

“This city is built to arrest people,” Ganesha M. Martin, the recently hired director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said at the event Thursday.


Martin, who formerly led the Baltimore Police Department’s consent decree compliance efforts, was critical of the current approach to policing.

“When [the police] show up to look around your building, they show up with guns, badges, and tasers,” Martin said. “They do not show up with anything else to change the trajectory of that person’s life."

Thomas Abt, who wrote a book on gun violence intervention strategies, agreed with Martin’s sentiment.

“You’re not going to arrest out of this problem," Abt said, “and you’re not going to program out of this problem.”

Baltimore Police Maj. Lloyd Wells gave an example of the system’s shortcomings: “When we have a problem with juveniles running around and it’s a curfew violation, we try to find their parent, but if they’re from a broken home, now we call social services, but if we don’t get a response, you know the only option left? We take them to booking.”

The criticism of policing strategies comes at a time when Baltimore continues to see an increase in violence. More than 150 people were killed in the city through the end of June, a 17% increase in homicides over the same period last year.

Last month, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced a new patrol strategy that would increase police presence in the most violent streets in the city. A few weeks later, the police department made 64 arrests during a three-day operation.

“You’re not going to arrest out of this problem.”

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Although the event was focused on gun violence, there was little mention of homicides and crime. Instead, panelists discussed restoration and rehabilitation for victims and perpetrators.

“Unless that person is arrested and kept in jail forever, they’re gonna come back and be a problem.” Martin said.

The panel also discussed possible solutions and strategies to combat gun violence, including increasing detective resources for shooting cases, focusing on crime hot spots, and encouraging programs to welcome violent repeat offenders.

“I know that just being positive doesn’t stop violence,” said Molly Baldwin, CEO of the violence prevention group Roca, “but if we keep assuming that it’s gonna be horrible, it’s gonna be horrible.”