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Baltimore’s homicide rate remains steady as others’ soar; perhaps the rest of the country should follow our lead | COMMENTARY

The combined leadership of Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (left); Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby (center) and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison (right) along with others has kept Baltimore's homicide rate from rising even as the numbers have soared elsewhere.
The combined leadership of Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (left); Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby (center) and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison (right) along with others has kept Baltimore's homicide rate from rising even as the numbers have soared elsewhere. (Tim Prudente/Baltimore Sun)

As homicides dramatically increase across the nation, a question has emerged as to why Baltimore City is an exception. What are we doing right in Baltimore that other places are not doing?

Crime statistics readily available on the internet show that last year homicides increased nationwide by 25%, up from 16,000 homicides in 2019 to more than 20,000 in 2020. The rate of increase was even higher in major cities. In Philadelphia, homicides increased from 346 to 469, up 35%. Chicago went from 481 homicides to 748, up 55%. Similar increases occurred in Baltimore’s peer cities: Atlanta up 38%, Memphis up 48%, Nashville up 32%, Phoenix up 46%, and St. Louis up 35%.

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Baltimore was an exception. In 2020, homicides in Baltimore went down 4%, from 348 to 335. Each of these occurrences was a tragedy to families and communities. One homicide is too many. Nevertheless, it is indisputable and significant that Baltimore’s year-to-year trajectory was much better than the rest of the nation.

This comparative trend has continued into 2021. Recent statistics show that the nation is on track to experience this year another 25% increase in homicides. As of May 2021, homicides in Philadelphia were up 28% over 2020. Also as of mid-May, New York homicides were up 27%. Available current statistics show that Baltimore will either match last year’s numbers or have an increase that is much lower than the national average.

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Every possible effort must be taken to stop the killing that is in large measure being fueled by the massive and unrelenting flood of powerful guns into our communities. It makes no sense for the United States to be the only nation on earth with more guns in its civilian population than people. The problems are now being compounded by the recent emergence of so-called “ghost guns” that have no serial numbers and are difficult to trace.

No American city can solve this problem alone. Congress and the federal government must act. But, while the nation wrestles with the causes of escalating violent crime, local governments and communities must in the meantime try to hold the line, by identifying and amplifying whatever measures appear to be working locally.

So, why is Baltimore’s rate of increase in homicides so much lower than the rest of the nation and most big cities?

Perhaps having an experienced and clear-thinking police commissioner is having a positive impact. This is certainly the longest recent period of uninterrupted leadership at the top of the Baltimore City Police Department. Stability matters.

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Perhaps State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s innovative approaches and focus on violent criminals are paying off. They certainly are allowing her to prioritize resources, while at the same time reducing the number of citizens being saddled with unnecessary and harmful criminal records.

Perhaps the political leaders who have personally joined on-the-ground efforts to reduce crime and violence are having an impact. Their increasingly frequent neighborhood walk-throughs usually bring to those neighborhoods additional resources.

Perhaps the efforts of faith leaders, community activists, violence interrupters and organizations such as Safe Streets and the Baltimore Community Mediation Center are bearing fruit.

Baltimore’s progress is likely resulting from a combination of these factors. Now is the time to redouble all these efforts. We should do more of whatever has been working. At the same time, we must explore additional ways to keep Baltimore’s trend line on homicides moving even further below the rest of the nation.

Baltimore has always been a city of creativity and invention. Maybe, it is again time for us to lead the nation out of trouble.

Larry S. Gibson (lsgibson1910@gmail.com) is a professor of law and, in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, was associate deputy attorney general and director of the National Economic Crime Project.

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