Mayor Catherine Pugh answers questions about her crime plan. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun video)
Unacceptably high numbers of homicides and shootings, as well increasing rates of robberies and burglaries, have Baltimore collectively searching for explanations and answers. We are saddened by each life lost to violence and increasingly frustrated when crime strikes close to home.
Through strategic focus and collaboration, we are getting back to making progress. Improving public safety is our responsibility, and we want to be held accountable for our goals. We have no choice but to do better.
Mayor Catherine Pugh has released a comprehensive plan to reduce violence. I would like to expand on a few of the points she raised .
First, we are striving for excellence in the Baltimore Police Department-- proper staffing, better training and supervision and modernization are essential.
Applications and hiring have been surging in 2017 – applications are up 27 percent this year, and 144 officers have been hired -- already more than in each of the last two years. While over 100 officers were shifted to patrol from administrative duties earlier this year, patrol staffing remains under strain. There are more than 100 police officer vacancies to fill.
BPD is currently implementing an online system that will completely automate the hiring process. Such programs have significantly shortened the time from application to hire in other jurisdictions. Strategies to increase the applicant pool and accelerate hiring must continue. BPD is also moving to complete a staffing study to ensure we are maximizing the people we do have.
BPD has implemented new and progressive training on principles like investigatory encounters, de-escalation and use of force. The next generation of leaders in all of BPD's ranks must be identified and their positive qualities emphasized as examples to the entire department.
With the help of the state, $2 million has been allocated to install mobile computers in every vehicle in the patrol fleet. Installation is starting this year and will be completed in 2018. The computers will allow officers to spend more time on policing and less time on paperwork. The computers also have GPS capability, allowing commanders to better manage their resources and increase accountability.
Second, our enforcement focus must be strategic and data-driven. Proactive efforts (like patrol presence, major investigations, parole and probation supervision and warrant service) are being aligned with the people and places the data tells us are most strongly connected to violent crime. Gun offenders are being tracked through the criminal justice system.
Police agencies around the country are adopting software programs using algorithms to forecast when and where crime is most likely to occur. This is technology we are considering adopting in Baltimore.
We have started to engage local service providers, community organizations and philanthropies to guide wrap-around services to the individuals most likely to be involved in violence. We can connect adults and juveniles most at risk for violence to organizations providing services like career readiness, education, housing, health and conflict mediation and mentoring. We are seeking to expand existing programs like Safe Streets and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and to adopt innovative approaches proven effective in other cities.
We will continue to advocate for the expansion of drug treatment until it is truly on-demand.
Fourth, collaboration among all levels of government must continue and be strengthened. Everyone is part of the solution for violence reduction.Police and prosecutors must coordinate to achieve the strongest possible outcomes in cases involving violent offenses and guns. Monitoring of adults and juveniles under state supervision is being coordinated with the police. Existing public health approaches like diversion to treatment for non-violent offenses must be expanded. City services like lighting, blight elimination and code enforcement are being maximized for public safety impact as well.
The outcomes of these efforts will be tracked, and information must be shared in a transparent manner.
Finally, the community must be part of the solution as well. Partner with the police to start a safety walk in your neighborhood. Participate in the next Ceasefire event. Mentor a young person. Support organizations that are trying to break the cycle of poverty and violence. Businesses and philanthropies – partner with us to grow and expand effective and evidence-based programs.
Each of these actions is directly under our control. By aligning resources, increasing collaboration and holding ourselves accountable, we will make progress in reducing crime.