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No one thing will reduce violent crime in Baltimore. That elementary observation hasn’t stopped some influential voices around the city from attributing persistent violence to a single factor, including poor policing, the City of Baltimore and Department of Justice consent decree, the State’s Attorney’s Office, insufficient laws or lenient judges.

In truth, every one of those factors has contributed to the city’s chronic crime crisis, and solving one problem alone will not result in a meaningful, sustainable improvement. Ending the city’s violence epidemic will require elected leaders to work harder on improving the city and addressing real challenges than they do on retaining power by getting re-elected.

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Unfortunately, many of those who have been elected to leadership roles in Baltimore have demonstrated a general lack of interest in crime reduction, other than in the rhetorical sense. In terms of legislative priorities, for example, the City Council has focused almost exclusively on legislative topics such as changing tables in City Hall restrooms, bike lanes on city streets and banning Styrofoam containers.

While some of these legislative concerns certainly have merit, none are a higher priority than stemming violence and reducing crime. But a search of legislation considered since 2016 reveals very little even remotely related to violence reduction, with one exception: imposing a reasonable, predictable consequence for illegally carrying a firearm. The City Council considered it, then killed it.

Though much of the conversation about violence has been on homicides and, more recently, on non-fatal shootings, The Sun reported just last week on increases in carjackings, which are on pace to reach a new high this year. Baltimore also has the dubious distinction of having more robberies per capita than any other city. Most of these crimes are committed with a firearm. With few exceptions, individuals who commit murders, non-fatal assaults, carjackings and robberies with a firearm are illegally carrying the firearm. But consequences for illegally carrying a firearm in Baltimore is simply insufficient to present any deterrent whatsoever.

Maryland has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but consequences for individuals illegally carrying firearms on the streets of Baltimore are, at best, inconsistent. The Sun’s Justin Fenton wrote three years ago of the inconsistent outcomes for individuals charged with unlawfully carrying firearms. In the article, then-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis spoke of the need for a predictable and consistent consequence to serve as a deterrent to illegally carrying a gun.

Daniel Webster, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies gun crime, said, “Focusing on gun offenders very consistently, when done well, correlates with fewer people getting shot.” His perspective is based on research, including violence reduction that has resulted from consistent sentencing for firearm crimes in New York City.

But later, in 2017, when legislation was considered by the City Council that would have imposed a minimum sentence of just one year upon conviction for illegally carrying a firearm in the city, it was met with resistance. The measure ultimately passed only after being amended in such a way that its entire purpose was gutted.

An opportunity was lost because certain members of the council, including its current president, Brandon Scott, were singularly focused on preventing incarceration, rather than preventing violence.

Baltimore needs solutions, not rhetoric. The work of reducing violence is hard. It is not the exclusive province of any particular agency of the government. But it does present a challenge to leaders who are charged with making difficult policy choices.

The citizens and stakeholders of Baltimore are looking directly at City Hall for leadership to address the violence crisis in an intentional way using research and data, rather than merely treating it as another political opportunity or a TV photo op.

Jason Johnson (jason@leldf.org) is a former deputy commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department and is the current president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.

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