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Mosby says Baltimore homicide commission is waste of money

Mosby: We already know the cause of Baltimore killings

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said Monday that the fledgling Homicide Review Commission is a waste of money, in part because law enforcement officials already know what is driving the city's record-setting surge in killings.

Mosby said in a radio interview that it made "absolutely no sense" for the city to spend $200,000 on the commission, and that the money could have been better spent "going after the individuals" responsible for violent crime and on witness protection programs. She called Baltimore the "home of witness intimidation."

Earlier this year, Mosby's office withdrew its support for the initiative, which brings together city leaders, law enforcement commanders, academics, public health officials and others to identify homicide trends and develop targeted responses.

"We know why homicides are taking place," she said on WBAL Radio. "We know it has to do with drugs. We know it has to do with gangs. We know it has to do with turf wars."

But Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the city would have been "foolish" not to try to duplicate the success such commissions have had in other cities. He said such efforts are "exactly what the citizens expect from the city's leadership, especially when you are dealing with such a strong spike in violence."

"This is a program that has been proven to show very positive results and trends in many other major cities across the country," Harris said. "When you have initiatives that are working in other parts of the country, it would be foolish to not at least investigate whether or not a similar initiative could be successful in Baltimore. We do not believe it was a waste of money to try it."

Harris said the city would continue to explore whether any "model or version" of the commission could be successful in Baltimore. The mayor will "spare no expense" in the pursuit of initiatives to "bring more peace to our streets," he said.

"We have to at least try, given the need in our city to stop the violence," Harris said. "That's what the mayor attempted to do with this investment."

Officials weighed in after The Baltimore Sun reported Sunday that Mosby pulled out of the initiative to identify real-time homicide trends. She said that sharing her office's information about ongoing cases with the commission could compromise investigations or jeopardize the safety of victims and witnesses.

Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and the academic selected to lead the commission by Rawlings Blake, said Mosby's decision undermined the commission's work.

Webster said there is "ample evidence showing that Homicide Review helps cities address the root causes of gun violence," and cited statistics that show areas covered by the commission in Milwaukee saw a 50 percent reduction in homicides following its implementation.

"For more than two decades I have worked with city leaders in good faith and mutual commitment to reducing violence in Baltimore," he said. "I respect State's Attorney Mosby and the state's attorney office, and view this matter as a difference in opinion by individuals who are fully committed to reducing violence in Baltimore."

Mosby criticized Webster on Monday, saying he "clearly had something to gain monetarily" from the commission. In the interview with radio host Clarence M. Mitchell IV, she also said officials with the Baltimore Police Department agreed with her position against sharing information on pending cases.

The Police Department didn't respond to a request for comment. Mosby didn't respond to a request for an interview from The Sun.

Webster responded that his salary as a tenured professor is "not impacted by individual contracts." He also noted that the city's contract with Hopkins remains in place and that Mosby's decision "has little bearing" on that. The commission, he said, continues to review "available homicide data."

Baltimore has seen 192 homicides so far this year, with 116 — or 60 percent — occurring in the past three months. Forty-five homicides occurred in July, tying a monthly record set in August 1972.

Police have stepped up enforcement efforts, most recently bringing in agents from a range of federal agencies to help speed criminal investigations. The Police Department's homicide clearance rate has dipped to less than 34 percent. That's down from more than 60 percent in April and an average in recent years of about 45 percent.

Webster said the Homicide Review Commission aims to dig deeper into "the actual factors that lead to homicides, how much of this is drugs, how much of this is gang conflict, gang-to-gang conflict, how much is generated by substance abuse."

For instance, Baltimore police reported in 2014 that they couldn't determine a motive in 158 of 211 killings in the city that year, though they found that 80 were "gang-associated."

Webster said he is now trying to reformat the initiative to work with older cases but is less enthusiastic about its potential impact on the city's current crime fight.

A number of city anti-violence programs have encountered problems this year. The director of the Ceasefire program, which takes aim at violent offenders, resigned in March. Meanwhile, a number of officials have left the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice. And one of the Safe Streets programs was suspended in July after drugs and guns were found inside its offices and two of its "violence interrupters" were arrested.

Some Baltimore officials and community leaders said they weren't troubled by Mosby's decision to not participate in the Homicide Review Commission.

Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr., president of the Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association in Winchester, agreed with Mosby, saying the city needs action, not a commission.

"Rome is burning and they want to study why it's burning. Put it out," he said. "What are they studying? We don't need $2 spent studying what the problem is — it's crime, violence and drugs."

Cheatham, former head of the city's NAACP chapter, suggested bringing in a group of 500 predominantly African-American police officers from around the nation to work with community and faith leaders to address the violence.

State Del. Curt Anderson said Mosby needs to ensure that witnesses are available to testify for her to prosecute cases.

"If she's come to that conclusion, I've got to respect that," the Baltimore Democrat said. "I don't think the commission is as much of a problem as the fact there are 192 murders in Baltimore City, and a big reason for the lack of clearance is the city Police Department is simply overwhelmed."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young deferred to Mosby and the city's top public safety officials, Young's spokesman Lester Davis said.

"The mayor, the state's attorney's and the police commissioner are all saying they are confident they are going to be able to use and gather data to solve crime," Davis said. Young is "holding the individuals accountable who have ultimate access to that information."

Baltimore Sun reporters Justin Fenton and Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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