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Is community-driven policing the answer to Baltimore's problems?

The progress of the Baltimore Police Department Monitoring Team, one year into the consent decree agreement.

Days after a community block party, members of the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside community were awakened by dozens of gun shots that ultimately took the life of yet another 20 year-old in Baltimore, his final moments spent on a city sidewalk. His murder left many in this tight-knit community wondering if there was anything we could have done to intervene and prevent this from happening. In its aftermath, the larger question remains: Apart from calling the police, what tools are there for communities to intervene in situations and safely resolve conflicts before they escalate?

Baltimore has long struggled with how to remedy the historic and systemic deficits that have plagued our city. Decades of underfunded public schools, redlining, over-investments in downtown, wholesale neglect of black neighborhoods, a job market out of reach for many Baltimore residents (both geographically and skill-wise), food deserts, and a ballooning drug epidemic left our city desperate for an alternative to the status quo.

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A one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to fail. Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods, and no two are the same; similar maybe, but not the same. The history and character of each is important not only to the folks who call that neighborhood home, but also to officials hoping to understand how these neighborhoods make up the fabric of our city. Just as each community is unique, policing strategies should be unique to each community.

For this reason, we have come to believe that a comprehensive public safety strategy in Baltimore should not be limited to a well-equipped police department but should include all components that make a community strong. To that end, we believe it is time for Baltimore to implement an improved version of micro-community policing plans.

Micro-community policing plans allow each community to partner with local law enforcement to develop a policing strategy that addresses the specific needs of an individual community. First launched in 2015 in partnership with Seattle University, this policing strategy has become the standard in Seattle. The plans use a bottom up approach that marries police data with input from those who live and work in the community. Each plan is evaluated and revised annually.

Micro-community policing plans hold great promise for reducing crime and improving community-police relations in Baltimore. According to an evaluation of the approach in 2017, within just one year of implementing these policing plans residents reported slightly improved perceptions of the Seattle police and marked decreases in fear of crime. Baltimore can improve upon these results by addressing not only the needs of each community but also leveraging the assets of each community to help residents build the capacity to safely problem-solve without relying on the police.

Micro-policing plans also have the potential to help the Baltimore Police Department come into the compliance with the federal consent decree. Seattle came under a federal consent decree in 2012, and in January of 2018 a federal judge declared that the city was in “full and effective compliance” with the order. With Baltimore under a mandate to adopt a community policing strategy, micro-community policing is an option that believe would be welcomed in Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

On Jan. 15, the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside community entered into a partnership with Open Society Institute-Baltimore to lay the framework for what a community-driven micro-community policing strategy can look like in Baltimore. The hope is that our community will be equipped with the tools to address the systemic issues that drive crime in our community and give neighbors the tools to intervene in situations that could not only potentially save a life but restore hope to many who feel hopeless.

Shane Bryan (shane.scott.bryan@gmail.com) is president of the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Community Association; Tara Huffman (tara.huffman@opensocietyfoundations.org) is director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice program.

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