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Five takeaways from Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s new crime plan

The five-year crime plan announced by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott Friday is the culmination of months of public meetings and campaign pledges on the part of Scott to tackle gun violence and crime in Baltimore City.

Broadly, the plan seeks to reduce violence by treating crime as a public health issue, better coordinating law enforcement, community groups and the business community and creating systems to measure progress.

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Here are the main policies and goals laid out in the plan.

A historic reduction in gun violence rates

One of the most striking aspects of the plan is its goal: a reduction of gun violence by 15% every year for the next five years. The plan specifically aims to reduce fatal and non-fatal shootings.

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If a 15% annual reduction in gun homicides were to happen, it would put Baltimore’s 2026 overall homicide rate at numbers the city hasn’t seen since the early 1980s.

Baltimore City has only seen a single-year decrease in homicides of 15% or more once since 1977 — in 2008. And during that timeframe the city’s best stretch for consecutive years of reducing homicides was the four-year period between 1999 and 2002.

So far this year, Baltimore has seen 162 fatal shooting deaths as well as a more than 50% increase in young people being shot compared to 2020. And the city has had more than 300 homicides a year every year since 2015.

Alternatives to policing mental health and overdose emergencies

Currently, Baltimore receives an average of 13,000 911 calls for people in crisis, often mental heath or overdose emergencies, according to Scott’s plan.

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The plan aims to divert more of these calls away from police and instead connect people in crisis with Behavioral Health System Baltimore and Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc., as well as other non-law enforcement resources.

“Officers may lack the in-depth knowledge and training to effectively de-escalate these situations, while a behavioral health response may be more appropriate,” the plan says.

A version of the 911 diversion program launched in Baltimore earlier this year and Baltimore County launched a similar pilot program this year to expand capacity, as the county’s mobile crisis team has struggled to respond to more than half the calls it receives from people in a behavioral health crisis, leaving many emergencies to police officers.

An acknowledgement of institutional racism

One of the plans stated goals is that, “dismantling structural and institutionalized systems of racism that perpetuate inequities and prevent community self-actualization.”

Scott’s plan aims to track this goal by monitoring the number of legislative policies led by the Mayor’s Office of Safety and Engagement that advance equity and aim to reduce violence.

This political priority on the part of Scott comes as the administration has begun publicly acknowledging the harms of past policing practices on Black residents of Baltimore.

In June, Scott apologized for the 2017 police lockdown of Harlem Park during the investigation of Detective Sean Suiter’s death. For six days, officers were stationed throughout the West Baltimore neighborhood, running background checks and asking for residents’ IDs before they were allowed in their homes. The city reached a settlement with multiple residents in June.

Advocacy for safe injection sites

With overdose deaths hitting a record high nationwide in 2020, debates have emerged over whether Baltimore should provide safe injection sites, free, sterile and supervised environments, with the goal of reducing opioid overdoses and needle-based infections.

The plan says Scott will work on “investigatory and advocacy work” to provide overdose prevention services, including overdose prevention sites.

“Cities across the world with overdose prevention sites, also known as safe use sites, do not lose people to fatal overdoses,” the plan says.

However, the creation of these sites in Baltimore or anywhere in the U.S. will likely require changes to state and federal law, something the plan acknowledges, saying that Scott will advocate for policy changes that would pave the way for legal safe injection sites.

The potential creation of these sites has been an uphill battle in the U.S. In January, a federal court struck down efforts by a Philadelphia nonprofit to create the first safe injection site in the country, with the court ruling it would violate federal law, according to NPR.

An unknown price tag

While the plan lays out hefty goals to reduce violence, the cost of the plan and its source of revenue are unclear. Scott and his staff were unable to give The Sun an estimate of the plan’s price tag and the 36-page plan stops short of naming its cost.

Sunny Schnitzer, deputy mayor for public safety, said the city will be able to cover some of the plan’s cost through federal grants it already receives.

And Scott indicated the city could shift its current spending to cover parts of the crime plan, though he wouldn’t say is that included the city’s $555 million police department budget.

“What we’ll say is that this switch in focus will force the city to really reprioritize tens of millions of dollars,” Scott added. “That means there are things that we do that aren’t working that we shouldn’t do. There are opportunities for us to grow into other programs, and we’re going to be looking to make significant changes to how we operate as well.”

Baltimore Sun data journalist Steve Earley and reporter Emily Opilo contributed to this article.

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