Baltimore will invest more than $10 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds over the next four years into community violence intervention programs to address violence in the city.
Mayor Brandon Scott on Wednesday laid out a plan to bolster existing relationships and expand programming under conflict mediation, violence intervention, life coaching, and victim services.
After 2021 marked the seventh straight year that Baltimore experienced more than 300 homicides, “the sheer loss of life is painful and disappointing,” Scott said in a letter accompanying Wednesday’s plan.
The solution to the violence, Scott said, is not to “simply police or prosecute our way to a safer future,” rather it will come from “connecting disparate, one-off efforts” into a more cohesive “ecosystem” of community violence intervention partners.
“Making our communities safer will take meaningful investment and a coordinated approach to response and intervention efforts,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in a statement. “That’s why I’m glad to see Mayor Scott leveraging federal American Rescue Plan funds in his comprehensive vision to improve public safety in Baltimore.
Van Hollen added that the plan “increases support for victims while offering pathways to homegrown economic opportunity that gives people hope for their futures.”
The city plans to provide more oversight and accountability of Safe Streets, including providing more support, safety, training and workforce development opportunities for the program’s violence interrupters who mediate conflicts before they escalate.
According to the plan, before Scott became mayor, there were 10 Safe Streets sites, “loose partnerships” with hospitals, and one contract with violence prevention program Roca for life-coaching and other support to young people.
The current 10 Safe Streets sites are located in McElderry Park, Cherry Hill, Park Heights, Sandtown-Winchester, Belair-Edison, Belvedere, Brooklyn, Franklin Square, Penn North and Woodbourne-McCabe.
But those 10 sites currently cover about 2.6 square miles of the 90 total square miles of Baltimore.
In June 2021, the White House announced it would be working with 15 jurisdictions across the country, including Baltimore, that had committed to increasing their community violence intervention infrastructure by using a portion of their American Rescue Plan Act funds and other public funding.
The city has not invested any American Rescue Plan Act funds in Safe Streets to date, according to the plan. But MONSE plans to use ARPA funds to contract community-based organizations and service providers, building out the city’s capacity for violence intervention and support services.
A 2012 evaluation of Safe Streets by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found “statistically significant program effects across all the program sites and border posts.” At the time, the Cherry Hill Safe Streets site experienced a 56% reduction in homicides and 34% reduction in nonfatal shootings.
Most recently, the Safe Streets sites in Belair-Edison and Cherry Hill also experienced one year without a homicide in their target areas in 2021.
But the mayor’s plan also notes that “Safe Streets Baltimore sites have not always shown consistent impacts on violence on a year-to-year or site-by-site basis.”
Officials attribute this inconsistency to an array of factors, including “inconsistent funding, inadequate training, instability following the program moving from the Health Department to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, hiring and staffing challenges, high-profile arrests of violence interrupters, lack of political will and program investment, frequent changes in political administration and leadership, and likely many more.”
Scott instructed MONSE to conduct an internal evaluation of Safe Streets and to establish a process for regular evaluation of the program.
The first evaluation, completed in 2021, gathered demographic information about the Safe Streets workforce, as well as their feelings and concerns about their roles. The evaluation also included community perceptions of the Safe Streets program.
There is also an academic evaluation of the program currently underway, with its findings expected to be shared in 2023, the plan’s authors said.
As part of the mayor’s plan, the city will establish contracts with additional violence intervention organizations, such as We Our Us, and implement school-based violence intervention programs.
The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) will also establish an official partnership with area hospitals to better coordinate violence intervention and victim services.
Baltimore City currently has a contract with Roca to provide life coaching and support to teens and young adults ages 16-24. The city has established a partnership with Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) to provide similar services to men age 25 and older, whom city officials say are “disproportionately at the center of violence.”
The city will also put a greater focus on victim services, including protection, emergency relocation assistance, housing, mental health support, and employment services.