Early bird tickets for Baltimore’s BEST party on sale now!

The Milwaukee solution

In justifying her decision to withhold information about ongoing cases from Baltimore's fledgling Homicide Review Commission, which is based on an initiative in Wisconsin, city State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said her office "cannot be naive to the fact that Baltimore City is not Milwaukee."

She's right. If it were, we would have had 1,402 fewer homicides over the past 10 years, according to an analysis of each city's homicide rates. Milwaukee has a population comparable to Baltimore's at 600,000 people, with a higher poverty rate, lower median income and smaller police force. But its 2014 homicide rate was less than half of ours (14 per 100,000 compared to 34 per 100,000 in Baltimore) and has declined 30 percent since 2005, when the city formally instituted the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission.

The group brings together law enforcement representatives, criminal justice professionals and community service providers to share information, study patterns and develop data-driven methods for reducing homicides and non-fatal shootings in Milwaukee, which in 2001 was named among the top 10 deadliest U.S. cities with a population over 500,000. The National Institute of Justice credits the commission's violence response and prevention model with a 43 percent reduction in Milwaukee homicides compared to regions not using such a system. And CrimeSolutions.gov, a program evaluation arm of the Office of Justice Programs, deemed the commission "effective" — its highest rating. Homicides are up in Milwaukee this year — as they are in a number of cities — but they remain at half Baltimore's level.

As of 2013, more than 90 jurisdictions had been trained in Milwaukee's homicide review method and more than a half dozen — including Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago, Ill.; and New Orleans, La. — had created their own commissions. Baltimore sought roughly $200,000 in funding in April of 2014 to launch its commission, back when it looked like the city was on track to finish the year with fewer than 200 homicides, as it had in 2011 for the first time in decades.

This year, we're on track to reach 200 before the summer ends, with 45 homicides last month alone — the highest monthly figure ever recorded (August 1972 also had 45 homicides). Avoiding that milestone should be of chief concern for all of Baltimore's top officials, particularly the top prosecutor. And given Milwaukee's experience, a homicide review commission seems an appropriate measure.

Yet Ms. Mosby has dug in her heels, The Sun's Kevin Rector reports, offering only to share information from older closed cases, rather than ongoing ones, effectively derailing the effort, according to the project's academic leader, Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

In a statement to The Sun, Ms. Mosby, who took office in January, expressed concerns about compromising open and pending investigations and the safety of victims and witnesses through information sharing. We certainly support her desire to protect victims and witnesses, though it's unclear exactly how they would be endangered. Her office did not respond to a request for clarification, and both her predecessor Gregg Bernstein and Milwaukee commission members said there were "work-arounds" that could be employed to maintain security. One suggestion was to release sensitive information only to law enforcement representatives rather than public health officials or community members. Apparently that's an unsatisfactory option for Ms. Mosby, suggesting that her office is not completely comfortable collaborating with police, despite claims to the contrary.

The state's attorney has made a national name thus far in her short tenure as the woman who brought heavy charges against six officers connected to the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man who died while in police custody. Many are looking to her for justice concerning police brutality in Baltimore. We certainly hope she can provide it.

But cooperating with police is key to combating the city's day-to-day violence, including that committed by the violent repeat offenders Ms. Mosby railed against during her campaign last year. Baltimore has logged nearly 1.3 homicides a day since the start of May, ripping apart families and communities in some of the city's most challenged areas. Ms. Mosby owes it to residents — the same people who elected her to the city's highest paid position — and those who support the commission to make a good faith effort to stem the bloodshed through every available means.

On WBAL radio's C4 show Monday, Ms. Mosby said that she pulled back participation because the commission amounted to a waste of money that "makes absolutely no sense."

Milwaukee may beg to differ.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad