CRIME

We must think differently about how we address crime, both in tactics and outcomes. This multifaceted approach focuses on setting a foundation for sustainable success, while also immediately taking action to make an impact on Day One. Addressing the gun violence epidemic isn’t simply about more policing or new plans – it’s about systematically, deliberately, and immediately addressing the people responsible for the violence and the geographies in which they are comfortable carrying out their violence. We must once and for all address the root causes of gun violence and the trauma our communities are facing in its aftermath.

Since January 1, 2015, Baltimore, a city of just over 600,000 residents, has seen more murders than New York City, a city of over 8.5 million residents. 2019 broke the city record for killings per capita – things are not getting better. It will take a strategic focus on outcomes and better allocation of resources, better collaboration, and better accountability to achieve long-term violence reductions.

This plan will:

  • Focus on the people and places most often associated with violent crime;
  • Increase civilian staff to put more sworn officers back on the streets and strengthening officer recruitment and retention;
  • Institute data-driven strategies;
  • Collaborate more effectively with our city, state, and federal government officials and law enforcement partners;
  • Establish Trauma Go-Teams to finally address the wellbeing of those impacted by this violence;
  • Disrupt the flow of guns into Baltimore;
  • Advocate for state legislation to increase the penalties for those illegally possessing and trafficking guns;
  • Renew our commitment to the fire department and medical services;
  • Invest in “behind the walls” and re-entry programs; and
  • Expand tip incentives and strengthen witness protection programs

We can change the culture of gun violence in our city, but we must also change the approach of City Hall. Real, immediate results can be seen with a mayor who has the policing experience, vision, and trust of the community.


Immediate Results

We cannot wait to make our communities safer – we must take immediate steps. Baltimore already has the resources to begin combatting gun violence right now – we just need strong, deliberate leadership that will use them more effectively and focus on outcomes. Too often our leaders are caught in a cycle of “planning to plan” and that will end in a Smith Administration. This crime plan can be put in place immediately and we don’t need to waste one more day, sacrifice one more life, or jeopardize one more child’s mental health before doing something.


Specific People & Places

Put simply, we know where the gun violence is happening. All too often, shootings take place in the exact location where it had mere weeks, or even days, before. It’s not random and it’s not ending. Anything impactful done by this city must begin with a specific focus on the people and places most often associated with this gun violence. This includes more strategic resource deployment and implementing more modern, effective tools. Data is worthless if we don’t take action to target who, what, where, when, and how violence is occurring.

Half of the murders in Baltimore – roughly 175 – take place in only three parts of the city: West, East, and Southwest Baltimore. One-third of the murders take place within five square miles.

Currently, those involved in the violent crime, specifically murder suspects and murder victims, have previously been arrested 10-12 times on average; nearly half have been previously arrested for gun offenses. We know who has the guns and who are involved in these crimes. Even parents are calling out the system as they see their children on the wrong path.

By beginning our policing efforts with prioritizing our resources in major areas of crime and on individuals most likely to commit further violent offenses, we can take immediate action.

This includes using all the tools at our disposal and proactively researching and discovering modern tools being successfully used in jurisdictions around the nation. We can no longer allow “21st Century Police Force” to simply be a catchphrase – we must make it a reality in Baltimore.

The most timely and relevant example is the use of aerial surveillance, which I support. It must be understood that the aerial surveillance proposal is simply a tool to assist investigators. As long as the program is deployed with the necessary privacy and data safeguards in place, we will monitor its potential benefits, any questions that arise, and most importantly, the outcome of its use.

With the overwhelming support of city residents – seventy-four percent of respondents in a recent poll support the use of aerial surveillance – and the need for immediate results on our streets, we would be foolish not to welcome this opportunity to add another asset in combatting Baltimore’s gun violence epidemic.

We will also invest further into the CitiWatch program. Technology is a necessary tool in modern public safety, and we must embrace it, while also ensuring privacy and constitutional rights are respected.


Civilian Hires & More Officers on the Street

In 2017, a civilianization study was done that indicated upwards of 200 administrative positions currently held by sworn police officers could be converted into civilian positions. The Smith Administration will develop a strategic plan – in concert with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) – to have at least 100 of those positions transitioned to civilian employees within the first year. Those sworn officers will be deployed to the most violent areas of the city, providing critical additional resources and lowering overtime pay. Additionally, new efforts will be taken to strengthen officer recruitment and retention within the BPD, focusing on measured performance, improved training and more defined career progression, and remaining competitive with surrounding jurisdictions.

A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services reported that civilians now account for approximately one-third of law enforcement department staffing nationwide. In contrast, only 13.6 percent of BPD’s staff are civilians, according to the Police Foundation.

Another staffing study, entitled “Baltimore Police Staffing Study,” released in 2018 by the Police Foundation, reiterated the need to look at these position: “In [the] short term, BPD should use the civilianization study conducted in 2017 by BPD to identify positions that could be filled with civilian personnel.”

The Smith Administration will eliminate this culture of stalled leadership and redundant analysis and implement immediate steps to best utilize resources within the police department. This will cut down on the inordinate amount of overtime being paid and prioritize swore officer engagement in the most necessary communities, all while improving public safety.

While 100 additional officers on the street is a good start, the stark reality is that the BPD is critically understaffed, leading to the perception outside of Baltimore that the city government doesn’t care about its officers, often dividing us into believing you can only support one: the police or the people. We must reject this false choice and know that we can accomplish both – with the right vision and the right leader.

Just like every hardworking man and woman in this city need their leaders’ support, so do those considering or living a career as a law enforcement officer in Baltimore – and they need the support of our communities.

The Smith Administration will do its part by immediately strengthening sworn service recruitment and retention. One of the tools we will utilize is working with the police union to create two new ranks for officers: Police Officer First Class and Corporal. These new ranks will provide incentives for promotion, provide more regular testing of officers’ proficiency in department rules and regulations, and more effectively prepare officers for future supervisory roles. This also provide another layer of incentive for officers who want to be promoted.

The Baltimore Police Department is the only agency among the big seven jurisdictions (Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Harford Counties) that doesn’t have a lower rank structure. As we are surrounded by numerous large police jurisdictions who have better pay, benefits, and incentives, we must become more competitive.

We must also partner with those jurisdictions during the recruitment process establishing memorandums of understanding to immediately get qualified recruits into an academy class if there is a delay in our city academy. This will get more officers on the streets sooner and ensure we aren’t losing recruits to other jurisdictions based on academy class timing.

We will also expand the ‘take home car’ program for city officers who reside inside of the city and will provide signing bonuses for new recruits that is commensurate with a minimum service time.

As a former law enforcement officer, I am uniquely positioned to address the needs of our police, both big and small, and will begin making these changes immediately upon taking office. Support is not just throwing money at a problem; it’s about providing our officers the tools and training to be successful, making Baltimore a place officers want to work and live, and showing our city that we all are invested in better protecting our communities.

The more officers we have available and living in the city, the more we can utilize foot patrols. Additional foot patrols give officers more time to learn the community and the neighbors, which helps prevent and solve crimes, while also building trust and relationships with the community.


Effective Data-Driven Policing

A modern police force operating in a violent city must not only be decisive in its resource deployment, but also must use everything at its disposal to protect the community – including information. The most effective strategies are governed by data, and policing is no different. We will track the details of every murder and shooting, all gun arrests through the prosecutorial process, repeat gun offenders, and the flow of illegal guns into Baltimore, we can be more precise and more effective in responding to and preventing gun violence.

A more data-driven strategy will begin with a fundamental refocusing and retraining of the use of data analytics within the Baltimore Police Department. Ensuring the highest level of security and privacy policies are in place, this data will not just help make communities safer from current violence, but it will provide guidance for identifying and addressing specific root causes of crime and those who are committing it.

To ensure we are getting the maximum real-time intelligence and highest impact, we will intertwine our data analytics program with the BPD’s Strategic Decision Support Centers (SDSC). These centers exist to more quickly and precisely target police resources and be more responsive to the needs of that specific community. The SDSC’s are located in the Eastern and Western police districts, which, as stated above, represent the smallest geographical districts, yet have the most combined murders in the city – accounting for approximately one-third of all murders in an area less than five square miles.

We will launch GunStat, another data analytics program whose purpose will be to examine the ‘Top 50’ gun offenders in Baltimore and develop policing and prosecutorial strategies to get and keep them off the street. With monthly collaboration meetings, City Hall will work with the Police Department, State’s Attorney’s Office, the United States Attorney’s Office, Parole and Probation, Juvenile Services, and other interested parties. This team will also track cases through the criminal justice system and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the cases in an effort to improve prosecutorial outcomes, coordinating information with Focused Development Teams, the Violence Prevention Initiative, SDSC, and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

Data and cooperation are critical in developing any kind of sustainable success against gun violence and this will be one of many areas in which our administration will knock down siloes and promote knowledge-sharing and mutual outcomes.


Better Government Collaboration

We cannot reduce violence with pure policing alone. All of our city agencies, along with our state and federal partners, must all be part of the solution. Through a collaborative approach involving the BPD, State’s Attorney’s Office, Parole and Probation, Juvenile Services, the Office of African American Male Engagement, Social Services, the Department of Public Works, and a reconvened Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, we can do more than arrest bad guys. Will launch “Focused Development Teams” who can intervene and proactively counsel and monitor “at-risk individuals”, while we address quality of life concerns, spur community improvement, protect victims and witnesses, treat trauma, and rebuild the community’s trust in the police department. 

As was stated at the very top of this plan, our collaborative efforts must also be focused on people and places. More specifically, “at-risk individuals” and communities with quality of life concerns.

City Hall will work with the BPD, State’s Attorney’s Office, Parole and Probation, and Juvenile Services to focus on those in our communities who are most likely to turn to crime or violence. We will collaborate to find ways to alleviate some pain, show opportunity, or impact a person’s life in a meaningful way before they commit a crime, it will begin to end the cycle of violence and bloodshed on our streets.

But the efforts won’t just stop at individuals; we will begin to address community issues that are conducive to crime, including vacant homes, problem stores, and trash. The communities most often plagued with violence are “user-friendly” for criminals. We have to disrupt these areas and not allow them to continue to be a breeding ground for crime. We will improve the quality of life in neighborhoods, so that it will lower the propensity for crime and promote equitable investment into more resources that community needs. Community improvement plans will be developed and shared with the Focused Development Teams and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC), which I will work with the Governor to reconvene.

Reinstituting the CJCC, we can bring together academics, criminal justice professionals, policymakers, data scientists, health officials, social leaders, and others to examine and recommended high-level strategies to analyze, prevent, and respond to crime more efficiently and effectively.

As we begin to address the root causes and patterns of violence, we cannot forget about those who spend every day in these communities. We must increase city and community investment in Safe Streets, which provide “Safe Street Zones” and attempt to settle disputes in the community, acting as a level of intervention between the people and the police.

But when violence does occur, we must also be ready to support and protect those who experience it. Through additional investments into victim and witness programs, daily contact with families, and resource guidance, we will continue to build the bonds between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Further rebuilding trust between the community and the police department will also require continuing with reforms under the consent decree and eliminating any remaining delays in implementation. Additionally, we will institute mandatory education and training for officers regarding guidelines of consent decree in order to clarify what is and is not an acceptable form of policing and how to better provide articulate reporting.

It will take time – as it does with any breach of trust – to bring us to a place where the community, police, and city government feel part of the same team, but it’s critical that we work diligently toward that goal. The community wants to be safe, with a respectful police presence that deters criminal behavior. Police officers want to protect and serve their neighbors and make it home each night and need the help of the community to do that. As leaders, we must never do anything that jeopardizes an opportunity to create a culture and common bond that allows this to happen.

Through more foot patrols, a better understanding of the communities and neighbors in which they serve, and a commitment to having positive interactions as often as possible, our officers will have opportunities to rebuild trust. We will also ensure the police department is receiving the training necessary for proper and safe de-escalation, so that they can be successful in stopping violence before it occurs.


Trauma Go-Teams

The numbers are staggering. There is an average of 19 shootings or murders each week in Baltimore – equaling almost three people per day who are shot and/or killed. What do we do as a city for the community who witnessed this? What do we do for the kids who navigate crime scenes daily? Why is it that our kids and adults in Baltimore are left to cope with the trauma that we see on a daily basis? In less than five years, our children and their families have seen more than 1,600 murders and more than 3,000 shootings. They have watched the fire department wash blood down the drains, and are left to cope with the trauma themselves. We can’t allow our communities to go untreated any longer and the city must do all it can to help communities heal after experience violence with comprehensive, wrap-around services.

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Each Trauma Go-Team will be composed of a group of professionals whose sole purpose is to provide direct support to those who have experienced violence. These teams will have nothing to do with the investigation, law enforcement, or justice systems. They will simply include those able to offer trauma-related assistance: clergy or chaplains, clinicians, social workers, addiction counselors, and other service providers.

These teams will be directed within 48 hours of a shooting or homicide to respond to the community, knock on doors, and “check on” the wellbeing of people of those who have just seen a horrific incident. By providing the full scope of services and resources, we can greatly reduce the impact of the gun violence epidemic on our communities, our children, and our mental health – all of which can do nothing but help our residents and our law enforcement keep Baltimore’s streets safer and healthier.


Disrupt Gun Trafficking & Enhance Penalties

A part of this gun violence plague that sometimes stays under the radar is the audacity of the shooters on our streets. The brazen nature of the crimes comes from two distinct sources: an endless supply of illegal weapons and an expectation of lax punishment. The reality is, we treat drug offenders far more harshly than gun offenders and in a Smith Administration, that will end. We will work to disrupt the illegal flow of guns into Baltimore and advocate in the Maryland General Assembly for stronger state gun penalties so violent criminals are put, and stay, behind bars.

The most clear and present danger on the streets of Baltimore is the person illegally possessing a firearm and ready to use it. In an analysis of firearms recovered and/or traced during 2016, it showed a direct correlation between the strictness of a state’s gun laws and the flow of guns. A state with stricter gun laws that is surrounded by states with more lenient gun laws, will see a high level of gun imports from those other states. As shown in the diagram below, in 2016, Maryland saw significant gun exports from our surrounding states, with the majority coming from West Virginia and Delaware.

Our police department will immediately begin collaborating with our federal partners to deliberately target the upper levels of gun trafficking enterprises to stem the flow of firearm trafficking into the Baltimore area. Investigators will be instructed to interview gun arrestees like they would a drug arrestee, in an effort to find the traffickers and suppliers in the region.

However, investigation and enforcement remain less effective if not coupled with penalties and deterrence. Within a month of taking office, the Smith Administration will work with local and state leaders in Annapolis, gun control organizations, and law enforcement organizations to advocate for a strengthening of penalties for those who illegally possess and traffic firearms.

In the midst of the most violent year in Baltimore’s history, we must reorder our priorities. If you’re caught illegally possessing a gun, the consequences must be enough to deter the behavior in the first place. And our law enforcement and judicial resources should be spent more on gun violence and less on drug enforcement, which should be treated as the disease and mental health issues that it is. Finally, we will advocate for the further decriminalization of marijuana, an offense that disproportionately affects young black men and is a resource and budgetary drain on both law enforcement, the judiciary, and corrections.

Deterrence is an incredible weapon in reducing crime and violent behavior, and the best way to deter gun offenders is to make guns hard to find and the sentence severe enough they aren’t willing to take the risk. The best way to stop gun violence is to try and make sure it never happens in the first place.


Commitment to EMS/Fire Department

Much like we ensure that we are providing the resources and investments necessary to our police department, we must also do the same for the fire department and EMS. Staffing shortages, egregious overtime use, and struggling recruitment must be replaced by effective training, state-of-the-art equipment, and a full roster of personnel.

In 2019, the fire department exceeded its $11.2 million overtime budget in March for the fiscal year ending on June 30. Overtime is being used to fill a third of all shifts, as is a process called volunteer “callbacks,” in which those who have just finished a shift are asked to work another. As with police officers, this practice can place lives in danger throughout our community, but also poses serious risk to our firefighters and medical personnel as we ask them to perform their duties tired and without optimal mental clarity.

We must take immediate action and begin instituting a continual, comprehensive recruitment and retention program, ending the practice of only periodically accepting fire department and EMS/paramedic applications. While a streamlined hiring process can be effective in the long-term, we can no longer allow it to delay new rounds of hiring. Any revenue or time saved is far outweighed by cost overruns, underserved communities, and endangered personnel.

While the Smith Administration will always welcome the opportunity to institute cutting-edge, modern processes and programs, we must begin by meeting the basic standards set for public safety. In just the last few years, the number of emergency medical calls has risen from roughly 162,000 to 189,000 per year. Predictably, this increase is due to the record highs in shootings and opioid overdoses.

In 2018, a goal was set for emergency medical crews to respond within nine minutes 90% of the time. However, it only achieved that response time 46% of the time. This is wholly unacceptable, and leaders must be held accountable.

Our EMTs and paramedics are the first lifeline on the streets, yet we continue to expect them to perform under subpar and inefficient conditions. That standard would not be adequate under normal conditions, and it certainly is not in the grips of our violence and opioid epidemics.

In conjunction with the fire union, public safety, and city health leadership, we will ensure we are meeting national standards on response time, establishing agreed-upon procedures for training and retention, updating outdated equipment and stations, and beginning continual recruitment to end our staffing shortage. These additional investments must be made so we can offer lifesaving opportunities to every community in the city before arriving at one of our trauma centers.


Behind the Walls & Re-Entry Initiatives

Every person deserves to be respected and have the opportunity at bettering themselves and we have to be dedicated to investing in those behind the walls. Whether a returning citizen or someone serving a life sentence, there is value in the experiences of those behind the walls and they can educate others and deter future criminal activity.

The data is clear: the right programs can reduce recidivism. The Smith Administration will ask the Governor to invest state funding into ‘behind the walls’ work programs that establish more comprehensive education opportunities and assist in acquiring employment before releasing an inmate back to the community, specifically for citizens who were incarcerated for a crime committed in Baltimore and are returning to Baltimore. We should be offering tax incentives to employers who participate in these and other reentry employment programs, as “an astonishing 93% of those who were able to secure employment during the entirety of their supervised release were able to successfully reintegrate back into society and not return to prison.”

Lastly, my administration would embrace the idea that “at-risk” youth can learn from incarcerated people. We will advocate for more opportunities for inmates to positively engage with our youth and use their experiences to inform better decision-making.


Expand Tip Incentive Program & Strengthen Witness Protection

Incentivizing community involvement is a cost-effective tool that allows a collaborative attack against crime using the police, the community, and the media. Baltimore currently offers up to a $4,000 money reward, but we must increase and set the standard reward for murder and shooting cases to “up to $25,000”. We will review our role in the current partner program, Metro Crime Stoppers, to devise a plan to increase rewards in Baltimore City.

Greater incentives will lead to greater involvement from our neighbors, and we need all the information possible to find and remove criminals from our streets. With open lines of communication between the community, law enforcement, and the media, we can work together to build a safer and more responsive Baltimore.

But if we’re asking our neighbors to help their city, we must ensure we are protecting them from any sort of retribution. While our federal representatives and Governor have worked to commit additional funds toward witness protection and relocation services, this has become an issue of trust.

Much like the skepticism exhibited toward City Hall due to our continued struggles with scandal and secrecy, some in the public feel as if the city isn’t doing enough to keep them safe. Without this trust – which must be rebuilt and strengthened – any program like this will not work. The Smith Administration will make it a priority to ensure we have the resources, attention to detail, and urgency needed to provide this security to those who are willing to help law enforcement at great personal risk.


Bringing It All Together

There are so many challenges facing our city and I know that we have the strength and resolve to tackle each and every one of them – if we have the right focus and the right leadership in City Hall.

Nothing happens in a silo, and this crime platform is just the first piece in a very large puzzle. But we cannot allow the magnitude of the challenges we face to make them seem insurmountable or lead us to simply “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.”

Through thoughtful, specific, and outcome-based cooperation between our public safety, health, social services, economic development, transportation, and administrative agencies, we can have an immediate and lasting impact on our city.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing details of how we will ensure access to health services, minimize homelessness, address the squeegee situation, make tangible improvements in our education system, make transportation more efficient and reliable, provide workforce training and job opportunities, deliberately invest in minority and chronically underserved communities, and build a responsive, accountable, and people-first City Hall.

These plans are the beginning of a new day in Baltimore; the beginning of a transparent, modern, and prosperous city; and the beginning of a city culture that finally puts the people of Baltimore – not itself – first.


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