Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott on Friday unveiled a five-year plan to address causes of violence in the city, emphasizing that community voices helped build the plan and that its success will depend on support from all of Baltimore and its partners.
“This plan is not just my plan; it’s Baltimore’s plan,” Scott said. “It’s our plan to deal with the disease of gun violence.”
Scott said the city will strive to reduce violent crime by 15% each year over the plan’s five years, though he acknowledged the goal will be difficult to reach.
“We understand that no single policy or initiative serves as a cure-all for the long legacy of violence that Baltimore has endured,” he said. “However, I believe wholeheartedly that this transformative approach can move the needle and make every neighborhood in Baltimore a safer place to live.”
The city held more than 36 community engagement sessions, and heard from more than 13,000 Baltimore residents, whose feedback is reflected in the plan, Scott said.
The plan comprises three pillars: a public health approach to violence; community engagement and inter-agency coordination; and evaluation and accountability.
Gathered at the Rose Street Community Center in East Baltimore on Friday, city officials and Baltimore’s state and federal legislative representatives championed the first pillar of the plan.
Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, said that pillar will include gun violence prevention, victim services, youth justice, community healing and trauma-informed practice, and re-entry of incarcerated individuals.
Jackson said the mayor will suspend pre-employment drug screenings for city government jobs in non-safety sensitive positions. Scott is also ensuring that city agencies do not use criminal background checks to exclude applicants from such jobs in an effort to help formerly incarcerated people more easily return to the workforce.
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, and Baltimore City Parks and Recreation are also coordinating on an initiative to allow individuals to work certain jobs in the months leading up to their release, Jackson said.
Jackson said the plan also includes training residents in trauma-informed approaches, coordinating neighborhood stabilization response to crises, promoting mediation services to resolve conflict, and providing community-based support for people struggling with opioid addiction.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby acknowledged that some may be wary of a new plan after previously unsuccessful attempts.
“I understand some who may yawn at the thought of yet another violence prevention strategy,” she said. “We’ve tried these approaches in the past, but it was instability in the city leadership that was always a cost to us.”
During the past six years, Baltimore has had four different mayors and five police commissioners. But now, Mosby said all city officials are “philosophically aligned when it comes to crime and holistically attacking the root causes of crime.”
Mosby said the plan’s “unified approach will yield the results we want to see.” She added that the plan requires cooperation and collaboration among all partners.
“We know we cannot simply arrest and incarcerate our way out of the violence, and thus we need a multi-pronged, collaborative, unified and data-driven approach that engages the best from our communities, our civil society, our academics, the service providers, outreach workers and government agencies,” she said.
U.S District Court Judge James Bredar, who is overseeing the police department’s federal consent decree, on Thursday raised concerns about Mosby’s decision not to prosecute certain lower-level crimes, such as drug possession and prostitution. Bredar said that decision could interfere with some goals in the decree.
But Mosby on Friday reiterated that police resources should concentrate more on violent crimes, especially given department staffing shortages.
Although the plan was released Friday, Scott said his administration has been working to implement some of its strategies since he took office in December.
“We did not wait for this plan to be finalized before we began this critical work,” he said. “This sense of urgency will continue to drive the way that this administration operates with regard to violence.”
The Baltimore Police Department in March partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety to adopt a new data portal that provides a “near real-time” view of gun trafficking in Baltimore City, Scott said.
The tool allows the police department to investigate gun traffickers and straw purchasers, said Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.
The U.S. Department of Justice in June announced the federal indictment of 15 members of Baltimore’s “Triple C” gang, who are allegedly responsible for 18 murders and 27 attempted murders.
Also in June, Baltimore City began diverting some 911 calls to behavioral health specialists and community partners. The pilot program aims to ensure residents receive appropriate assistance, while freeing police officers to address violent crime.
U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who each sit on their chamber’s appropriating committees, pledged to help the city get the funding it needs to combat violence.
After six consecutive years with more than 300 homicides in Baltimore, Ruppersberger said the city needed to “try something that hasn’t been tried before.”
“It’s the first time in treating violence as an urgent public health epidemic,” Ruppersberger said.
Van Hollen said more than 50% of the guns used to commit crimes in Baltimore come from outside of Maryland. He said he is working with his fellow senators, as well as his colleagues in the House, to pass national legislation requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.
Another priority will be to confirm a new permanent director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Van Hollen said.
In June, Scott and 14 other mayors across the nation joined President Joe Biden to discuss strategies to address gun violence, including community violence intervention programs like Safe Streets.
Baltimore’s Safe Streets program currently includes 10 sites and seven hospital-based partnerships. The five-year plan will expand Baltimore’s violence intervention and prevention communities by adding about 20 violence prevention contracts across the city.
Jackson said the plan’s objectives will not be “finished” by the end of its fifth year, but that the city hopes to see positive results each year.
“We will see significant reductions in the homicides and the shootings in our city,” she said. “We will see increased perceptions of safety and trust, and we will continue to have work to do.”