By Stephen Janis
Special to the AFRO
Baltimore is on another torrid pace for violent crime. As of Feb. 29, 53 residents have been murdered.
But, despite the body count that puts Baltimore on pace to be one of the most violent cities in America for yet another year, current Mayor Jack Young says his administration is making progress.
“Increasingly, we are seeing reductions in violent crime in our micro zones. This strategy is teaching our commanders and officers to deploy in a strategic way,” Young told the AFRO.
“Due to changes we’ve made in the BDP (Baltimore Police Department), more than 100 officers have returned to full duty and an additional 14 officers have been assigned to the homicide unit.”
Young pointed to drops in categories of crime other than homicides as proof his plan was working.
“We are down in every violent crime category with the exception of homicide,” he said.
But, it is the murder rate which is often used as a bellwether for communal safety, and it is the homicide number that has acutely haunted the city for nearly half a decade since 2015, the year of the Uprising.
Since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the since has notched roughly 1200 homicides. The bloodshed has vaulted Baltimore into the top five most dangerous cities with populations over 500,000 for the past three years.
Meanwhile the city has experienced frequent turnover in the commissioner’s office. During the same period of surging violence, Baltimore has had five police commissioners.
The turnover at the top has been accompanied by chaos in the ranks.
State’s attorney Marilyn Mosby has indicted roughly 50 cops since 2014. It is a trend that continued last month with the charging of homicide detective Sgt. Robert Dohony. The 27-year veteran is accused of falsely claiming he had worked overtime during an investigation.
But, despite the turmoil in the department the city continues to pour money into policing.
Last year the city spent over $500 million on direct costs for policing, more than any other city agency.
Rampant overtime spending has also plagued the department. Over a five-year period between 2012 to 2017, overtime spending totaled $170 million, roughly $100 million over budget. In 2019 police spent approximately $48 million on overtime.
But, the rising costs and intractable violence have tested the patience of another city official who doesn’t agree with Mayor Young that progress is being made. Council President Brandon Scott took issue with Young’s assertion that the city is on the right track with regards to crime.
“Homicides in Baltimore are up over last year. Carjacking’s and robberies are also up this year. These numbers make me angry. It’s why I’ve been tirelessly calling for a new, holistic approach to public safety. And they’re more than just numbers to me,” Scott told the Afro.
It’s a disagreement that might have implications in the city’s upcoming 2020 mayoral primary. Scott is one of several contenders, including former Mayor Sheila Dixon, locked in a tight battle for the city’s top job.
A recent poll published by the Baltimore Sun shows Dixon leading with 16 percent among likely voters, with Scott close behind at ten percent. Young is trailing with just six percent support.
However, the race remains in flux, with nearly one third of all voters undecided.
“I am frustrated that we’re at this point – and that rests on Mayors who haven’t taken action to fundamentally get at the root of this problem and end this senseless violence,” Scott said.