Run­ning for mayor, Scott of­fers a holis­tic crime fight for Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND - Dan Ro­dricks

This came to me while read­ing a re­cent crime-re­duc­tion plan for Bal­ti­more: What we want are sales of heroin and other il­le­gal drugs with­out the deadly vi­o­lence that goes with them; on-de­mand drug ad­dic­tion treat­ment for those who want it; and a le­git­i­mate job for those will­ing to leave the drug trade.

It’s not per­fec­tion, but, all things con­sid­ered, it’s prob­a­bly the best we can hope for.

Congress is not go­ing to le­gal­ize the sale of heroin or co­caine any time soon, some­thing that the­o­ret­i­cally would cre­ate le­git mar­kets and stop the vi­o­lence that ac­com­pa­nies the cur­rent com­merce in drugs.

So, given that re­al­ity, how does Bal­ti­more, with its high de­mand for il­le­gal drugs, re­duce vi­o­lence in 2020 and be­yond?

“You are not go­ing to re­move the drug trade,” Daniel Web­ster, the di­rec­tor of the Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for Gun Pol­icy and Re­search, told me two years ago. “The idea that you can lower vi­o­lence by cur­tail­ing the drug trade is fool­hardy.”

Web­ster’s team had just con­cluded a deep anal­y­sis of Bal­ti­more po­lice data. It showed ar­rests of deal­ers on drug cor­ners hav­ing no last­ing ef­fect on gun vi­o­lence. In fact, dis­rupt­ing drug mar­kets caused chaos that led to more gun­fire, the study found.

Web­ster said Bal­ti­more would be bet­ter off with a nar­rower fo­cus on those en­gaged in vi­o­lence — that is, tar­get­ing what the city’s last suc­cess­ful po­lice com­mis­sioner called “bad guys with guns,” the rel­a­tively small num­ber of re­peat of­fend­ers con­nected to a disproport­ionate amount of vi­o­lence.

“It means you’re not go­ing to al­low peo­ple en­gaged in vi­o­lence to be in the drug trade,” Web­ster said.

So, sep­a­rate them out. Tar­get them. Send po­lice into vi­o­lent neigh­bor­hoods fo­cused on il­le­gal firearms and peo­ple with a his­tory of gun of­fenses.

Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Michael Har­ri­son al­ready has pa­trol of­fi­cers as­signed to ar­eas with a his­tory of shoot­ings and a spe­cial unit tar­get­ing the 25 most vi­o­lent drug-traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions in the city.

But there’s an­other con­cept, proven ef­fec­tive in sev­eral other cities, that would make the over­all strat­egy holis­tic and more ef­fec­tive in the long term.

In his pro­pos­als for crime re­duc­tion, Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bran­don Scott, a can­di­date for mayor in April’s Demo­cratic pri­mary elec­tion, makes “guns and vi­o­lent re­peat of­fend­ers” his top pri­or­ity. But, along with var­i­ous en­force­ment strate­gies, he lists di­rect in­ter­ven­tion with ex-of­fend­ers who are most likely to com­mit new crimes, some­thing I raised in a col­umn last week.

“Un­der my lead­er­ship,” Scott states, “we will iden­tify vi­o­lent crim­i­nal net­works and re­move them from our neigh­bor­hoods through con­sis­tent, tar­geted pres­sure.”

But then he adds this: “We must bring more cred­i­ble men­tors into this work, strengthen part­ner­ships with the re-en­try com­mu­nity, pro­vide peo­ple with real op­por­tu­ni­ties to turn their lives around, and bet­ter con­nect re­sources with peo­ple who need them most.

“Re­duc­ing gun vi­o­lence will re­quire us to fo­cus our re­sources and of­fer real al­ter­na­tives to a life of crime,” Scott says. “In the past, Bal­ti­more had some suc­cess re­duc­ing vi­o­lence us­ing a sim­i­lar ap­proach, but did not in­vest enough in creat­ing true op­por­tu­ni­ties that had the po­ten­tial to change con­di­tions.”

Scott is talk­ing about what’s known in crim­i­nol­ogy as “group vi­o­lence in­ter­ven­tion.” And he knows his his­tory.

The strat­egy, based on a model de­vel­oped by a widely re­spected crim­i­nol­o­gist at John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice, had two lives in Bal­ti­more.

More than a decade ago, the U.S. at­tor­ney, work­ing with state and lo­cal agen­cies, con­ducted a reg­u­lar se­ries of “call-in” ses­sions with men on pa­role or pro­ba­tion, a cen­tral piece of the in­ter­ven­tion model.

The first “call-in” I ob­served was held in the West­ern District po­lice sta­tion. Po­lice brass, city and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors, and staffers from pa­role and pro­ba­tion were there. A small group of ex-of­fend­ers were warned about penal­ties if they com­mit­ted more crimes and of­fered help with hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and job place­ment by the po­lice de­part­ment’s “Get Out of the Game” unit.

The pro­gram was in place dur­ing a pe­riod when shoot­ings dropped sig­nif­i­cantly and dur­ing the last year, 2011, when Bal­ti­more’s homi­cide count landed be­low 200.

Un­der the for­mal head­ing of “Cease­fire,” the pro­gram came back a few years later dur­ing the may­oralty of Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake. But it failed be­cause of poor ex­e­cu­tion, lack of sup­port from po­lice com­man­ders and lack of fol­low-through on so­cial ser­vices for those who were of­fered help.

By then, Scott was chair­man of the city coun­cil’s pub­lic safety com­mit­tee. “Walk­ing away from [the] Cease­fire pro­gram again is un­fath­omable,” he said at the time. “It isn’t that the pro­gram can’t work. It’s never been given needed re­sources.”

Scott be­lieved the pro­gram should have been bet­ter sup­ported by the mayor and ad­min­is­tered by the health de­part­ment.

So I should not have been sur­prised to see “group vi­o­lence re­duc­tion strat­egy” at the very top of his 23-page crime-re­duc­tion plan. And Scott points to New Or­leans, Har­ri­son’s for­mer post, as one of the cities that had suc­cess with the Cease­fire model.

“There were sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in over­all homi­cide, firearm­re­lated homi­cide, gang mem­ber-in­volved homi­cide, and firearm as­sault,” a U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice study found. “New Or­leans showed sig­nif­i­cantly de­creased homi­cide rates af­ter the pro­gram was im­ple­mented.”

That’s just page one of Bran­don Scott’s crime-re­duc­tion plan. I’ll have more on it in up­com­ing col­umns. For now, I give him props for want­ing to try some­thing that worked be­fore — not just threat­en­ing more ar­rests, but of­fer­ing peo­ple who cause a lot of Bal­ti­more’s mis­ery a way out of it.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bran­don Scott, a can­di­date for mayor, has re­leased a 23-page plan for re­duc­ing crime.

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