Crime ought not be fought in a law enforcement silo; it is, without a doubt, also a social, educational, economic and health issue. And we absolutely support the concept of including a broad array of city agencies in the development of a comprehensive crime plan, as Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott has suggested in a bill that would require a new city crime plan every two years.
Yes, agency heads from the city health department to the housing authority to the public school system should all be invested in the fight to stem crime in Baltimore, but we’re not sold on the need to legislate it — particularly when the effort is beginning to appear more politics- than policy- based.
The initial version of the bill, filed in September, was aimed at the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, requiring it to regularly develop and implement a multi-agency crime plan separate from the police commissioner’s plan. Mr. Scott, who is running for mayor, said that was an effort to avoid a scenario like the one the city faced under former Mayor Catherine Pugh, who never offered a detailed plan to combat crime before she resigned from office this year and was eventually convicted of various crimes herself (non-violent, at least).
Then last week, Mr. Scott and members of the Public Safety Committee amended the proposal to shift the onus of the crime plan away from the mayor’s office to the health department, on the heels of ill-advised remarks by Ms. Pugh’s successor, Mayor Jack Young. Mr. Young claimed city leadership bears no responsibility for a murder rate that has catapulted past 300 this year, because, after all, they’re not committing the murders.
It’s true that violence is a public health issue; the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has declared it one of its primary research areas. Still, the onus of a citywide crime plan should not fall on the health department. The police department and other law enforcement agencies should be the leaders in getting criminals off the street. Other departments — health, the housing authority and school system and so on — should play a secondary role working on the systemic issues that contribute to crime. We’re not even sure the health department wants the responsibility, given testimony from city leaders that many heads of city agencies had no idea the amendments were coming.
We also worry about the creation of too much bureaucracy. The police commissioner should be the one who leads the effort of any crime plan. You have to trust the people you hire and not micro manage. Involving too many hands could slow down the crime fighting process. Other area departments don’t have such requirements. In Baltimore County, executive John A. “Johnny” Olszewski, Jr. strongly promotes cross-agency collaboration, but there is no provision in the code requiring this action.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, whom Mr. Scott and the rest of the council contend they support, already has a comprehensive crime plan in place that includes working with partners that have expertise on the social causes of crime. He has said consistently that the department’s relationship with other city agencies and non-profits is crucial in confronting the root causes of crime. It would help if Mr. Harrison presented the public with concrete ways the department is working with these partners. It is one thing to say it, and another to show it.
Mr. Scott’s bill also calls for an analysis of criminal justice data, an assessment of holistic crime-reduction efforts beyond policing and the establishment of goals for stemming violence in Baltimore, and by all means, we hope that occurs. It already should have been.
But there is no reason to push through this legislation. It is not going to do anything immediately to stem the killings, though it might give the council members something to put on their resumes showing action on crime. It’s unclear if the bill is even enforceable if passed; the city’s law department has raised several concerns.