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Op-ed

Baltimore doubles down on curing city ‘of the disease of gun violence’ | GUEST COMMENTARY

Mayor Brandon Scott, accompanied by city officials and members of the Greater Baybrook Alliance, tours residential streets south of East Patapsco Avenue in Brooklyn in this May file photo. At right are are Shantay Jackson and Wesley Dawson of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.

Imagine this: A woman answers a knock at her door, and is greeted by community violence intervention workers who tell her that her grandson, whom she lives wih and who recently recovered from a gunshot, is thinking about retaliating. In fact, he’s said that he’s going to shoot the person who shot him. These workers had received a warning call from the woman’s son, who is currently serving a federal prison sentence, and is gravely concerned about both her safety and that of his own son. The workers tell the grandmother that she can’t stay in the house. They remain with her as she collects her things, and they move her to a safe location.

Back in the neighborhood, these front line workers undertake the deeply tailored work of cooling tensions and mediating the conflict. They locate the grandson and talk him down from retaliating, while making referrals for wraparound supports, including victim services and life coaching. After four days, the workers inform the grandmother that it’s safe for her to return home.

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Now imagine that this is a true story.

Because it is.

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Thanks to this life-saving intervention, there have been no incidents between the parties since. And it is just one example of many community violence interventions, or CVIs, underway in Baltimore.

Many residents know of the city’s Safe Streets program. It uses an evidence-based public health intervention known as “cure violence” in its work, reaching out to those at the highest risk of shooting someone or of getting shot within a set area that corresponds to BPD violent crime data in a 2.6 square miles region. And it serves as the cornerstone of the work in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE), which I oversee. But we know we must cover more ground with the way we leverage and coordinate our partnerships.

Safe Streets is one component of the multi-faceted CVI ecosystem, which includes more than just outreach and violence intervention. It provides victim services, life coaching, crisis response management and other programming. The physical care the grandson in our true story received at the hospital, along with the outreach and violence intervention, helped him, his grandmother and his community in the moment. But without the provision of mental health, victim and life coaching services, the work would have been incomplete, and the young man wouldn’t be on a path to treating his emotional trauma.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has made a historic investment in this non-law enforcement, evidence-based work, and he is pulling disconnected efforts into strategic alignment to cover more ground through our office, which was established to institute the city’s very first comprehensive public safety strategy. MONSE is very intentionally balancing evidence-based approaches like cure violence with other innovative options. And, while much work remains, I’m proud of the foundation forged by our team, driving the integrated, strategic approaches of CVI and the Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS).

Historically, City Hall has struggled to put strategies in place that reverse the trend of persistently high levels of gun violence — 338 people lost to homicide last year — for the long-term. As MONSE prepares to scale GVRS to more of the city in early 2023, we’re thrilled that our pilot project in the Western District has yielded a 32% reduction in gun violence since January. This approach employs CVI and relies on a strong partnership with law enforcement at all levels.

This is not overnight work. City Hall can’t do it alone. Its success will depend on partnership and further investment in the people who knowingly put themselves in between a gun and the person it’s pointed at. We are focused on doubling down on our early impacts and growing them until we have cured Baltimore of the disease of gun violence.

Shantay Jackson (monse@baltimorecity.gov) serves as director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.


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