Improving Public Safety

What Baltimore Needs is to be a safer place to live, work and play.

While improving our schools, reducing unemployment, and lowering property taxes are all important challenges, many of my constituents have as their primary concern, some permutation of crime, particularly the “quality of life” crime that pervades even neighborhoods that aren’t challenged with serious or violent crime. Even lowering property taxes or improving the public schools for example, still won’t make an all-night fraternity party next door, or a smashed car window, or constant litter in the gutters and on the sidewalks less annoying.

While I support the strategy of targeting violent crime and offenders, I also recognize that it is purely one of law enforcement; the long-term solution to reducing violent crime involves major changes to the ways we approach education, recreation, housing, job training, and drug treatment. We should be suspicious of anyone who thinks we can simply police our way out of our current situation.

If we want to create a sustainable society with less violent crime, we will need to ensure that everyone has access to a decent education, quality affordable housing, and a job that can support them. This will be challenging and will require a great deal of political will – to re-invest not just in Baltimore’s physical infrastructure, but in the human capital that will be Baltimore’s future.

We also need to improve relations between the police and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect. The police cannot do their jobs without our trust and support, but both of those things need to be earned through transparency, accountability, constant communication, and more direct community engagement.

In the short-term though, along with targeting violent crime and offenders, we must increase community involvement in fighting crime, and we must give our children something productive to do rather than getting involved with a criminal element. Much of my work on the Council – which I propose to continue if given the opportunity – has been aimed at addressing these issues.

Better enforcement of my Late Night Commercial Operations program has shown positive results.  This innovation of mine, passed earlier this term, requires businesses that stay open late to get a license from the City, and gives communities the power to protest the license, if the business isn’t a good neighbor. Another change is the new Social Host citation program that Councilwoman Clarke and I worked on last year, which gives the police the ability to issue $500 and $1000 citations to hosts – and landlords – of disruptive house parties. Both of these programs have given the police an important tool for reining in problem businesses on commercial corridors and inside neighborhoods, as well as nuisance or party houses.

To encourage community involvement, the City Council passed my Confiscated Assets for Neighborhoods law. When city police arrest criminals with less than $2,000 in cash on them, after the court case is over, the money goes to the city’s general fund. Under my law (adapted from a suggestion by Bill Goodin, a community advocate in my district) a portion of this money is supposed to be set aside for grants to neighborhood groups who are running their own public safety programs.

The grant program – once actually funded – will be run by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, with the funds prorated according to police districts, based on the amount of money confiscated within each district. By emphasizing that we’re all in it together, and supporting those communities that are putting their own time and energy into making their neighborhoods safer, we can make crime reduction something “we” are doing and not just something for which “they” are responsible.

Most importantly though, as I said years ago in the Baltimore Sun, we must budget as if youth development programs are public safety programs – because they are.

I go to a lot of events where children and youth are the main focus. I spend lots of time in rooms with people who talk about the importance of youth and how youth are our future – and who then go home to communities where they and their neighbors look out their windows, see those same youth standing on the corners, and are frightened.

At that point, few call their councilperson asking for more late-night recreation programs in their community. Almost nobody e-mails the mayor demanding that she put more money for after-school programs in her budget. Most simply call the police and tell them to hurry. This may explain why over a twenty-year period, the police budget has more than doubled while Recreation and Parks’ budget has actually shrunk.

Even when times are tough, we have to be willing to spend our resources on long-term solutions, or the problems will never go away. Recreation centers, libraries, summer jobs programs and other after-school programming are the tools city government has available to prevent not just crime but criminals. We need to recognize that youth development isn’t another priority in competition with public safety; it IS public safety.

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