The Baltimore mayor’s office chose three neighborhoods for new Safe Streets sites, expanding the reach of a popular program that uses reformed criminals to intervene in disputes before violence breaks out.
The sites are expected to open next year in Northeast Baltimore’s Belair-Edison, South Baltimore’s Brooklyn and Madison-East End in East Baltimore — neighborhoods that between them have seen 53 shootings that resulted in 21 killings this year.
Johnette Richardson, the director of the community organization Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, said she hopes Safe Streets can help help curb violence that has hit the area and show young people how to resolve their differences in ways that don’t involve “picking up a gun.”
“A lot of times, I’m learning it’s just kind of petty disputes that happen among young people, and today, because guns are available, that’s the go-to,” Richardson said.
The city said it wanted to expand the program into neighborhoods that have been hard hit by gun violence in recent years. Brooklyn, with 25 shootings resulting in 11 homicides, is the third-bloodiest part of the city this year, according to police data. Belair-Edison, with 20 total and seven homicides, ranks sixth; Madison-East End has seen six shootings, half of them fatal.
Daniel Battle, 42, became the city’s 296th homicide victim this year when he was fatally shot in Belair-Edison on Thursday night.
The city has chosen the education and job training charity Living Classrooms to operate the Belair-Edison site and Catholic Charities to run the Brooklyn location. The organizations already are involved in running two of the existing four Safe Streets branches in Cherry Hill, McElderry Park, Park Heights and Sandtown-Winchester.
For the third new site, in Madison-East End, the city will partner with the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition.
James Piper Bond, the president of Living Classrooms, said his group was invited to apply by Richardson’s organization. As the city teeters on the brink of 300 homicides for a fourth consecutive year, Bond said the program will complement efforts by the police, city departments and other private programs, such as the newly launched Roca, to stem the bloodshed.
“Baltimore needs to look at every possible option to help reduce violence,” Bond said. “It’s a mosaic of anti-violence efforts that have to be put forth, and Safe Streets is an important part of that.”
Safe Streets has widespread support among the city’s political leaders because of the promise it offers of reducing violence without relying on more policing.
Mayor Catherine Pugh reorganized the program, moving it from the Health Department to her criminal justice office, and secured state funding to carry out the expansion. The city plans to have 10 sites by the end of 2019.
On Wednesday, the city’s Board of Estimates formally approved a $2.5 million grant for the program from the state and $1.3 million in matching city funds. The new locations, which still need approval from the mayor-controlled board, are expected to have an annual operating budget of $500,000 each, according to contracting documents.
Early studies of Safe Streets suggested it had a significant impact on violence, boosting its appeal, but more recent research has found the results to be spotty. The program also has been dogged by questions over how thoroughly reformed the people it hires are — police have repeatedly alleged that people connected to the program are still involved in crime.
Richardson said she hopes that by the end of next year, Safe Streets will start showing results, driving Belair-Edison down the gun violence list. She said new home buyers are moving in and sending their children to local schools, and she doesn’t want shooting statistics to define the neighborhood.
“It is not the story of our community,” she said.