Gunshots rang out this month on Boarman Avenue, lined with trees and townhouses with porches, scaring nearby residents. Five people were injured, police said, just hours after four people were shot in East Baltimore, including a man who died.
That night, Councilor Sharon Green Middleton fielded calls from worried residents, some of whom had heard the hail of gunfire on the avenue as they prepared for bed. Cynthia Foote, of the Towanda Neighborhood Association in northeast Baltimore, is one of those who called, expressing frustration at what she sees as a lack of immediate police effort and of the mayor to fight against the escalation of crime.
“We have to do something now,” Foote wants city leaders to know. “You can give us this stuff long term, but what are you doing right now?”
The shooting in the Middleton neighborhood joined the latest wave of violence rocking the city. Elsewhere, it was the death of a pregnant woman and the father of the child, as well as a teenager killed after his junior prom. A man was killed Saturday in Sharp-Leadenhall in South Baltimore, police said.
The bloodshed has prompted Middleton and some other city leaders to question Mayor Brandon Scott’s plans, such as the progress of the Mayor’s Office for Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, known as MONSE. . It was created by the Democratic mayor in 2020 to address the root causes of violence. They also question Police Commissioner Michael Harrison’s plan to tackle crime.
“We have to be creative and try to transition summer into fall,” Middleton said in an interview.
Middleton was among six council members who released a list of demands on the Scott administration on Thursday ahead of hearings on the city’s next budget. In letters to Harrison, who is appointed by the mayor, and Shantay Jackson, director of MONSE, the group called for a short-term police crime plan, as well as information on the MONSE’s use of federal funding to reduce gun violence.
They also called for an inventory of police assets by June 3, as well as plans for coordinating with other law enforcement agencies, increasing the use of civilian employees, use of overtime, increased clearance rates and expanded use of license plate reader technology.
Baltimore’s level of violence is “incomprehensible,” Councilman Eric Costello, backed by Middleton, Mark Conway, Antonio Glover, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Robert Stokes, said at a press conference Thursday. They are Democrats, just like the other members of the 15-person council.
Costello wrote, “Our residents and our communities need relief, and they need it now.”
It’s unclear if Scott’s administration will respond to their requests, though Costello said he expects it.
Scott on Friday pushed back against the suggestion that his administration and city police needed a new short-term plan to address the violence. He did not say whether he would provide the information sought.
“The reality is – to me – the things they ask for are the things we do,” Scott said.
Scott pointed to improved arrest numbers for homicide, robbery and aggravated assault so far this year. Officers have arrested 50 people for murder as of May 14, up from 44 on this date last year. The department made 31 more arrests for robbery and 73 more arrests for assault than last year. Certainly, the number of homicides and shootings throughout the city is on the rise.
“You see the police making this arrest. You see these people intercede in violence. You see what Safe Streets does every day,” Scott said, referring to one of the city’s violence-stopping programs. “It’s an immediate end to the violence.”
More importantly, Scott said, city officials — including council members — need to focus on how they can “put system-wide pressure” to improve outcomes for people after arrests. or other interventions.
A city councilor balked at the idea of a new short-term anti-violence plan. Ryan Dorsey called the request “theatre” in a series of tweets on Friday.
“Requiring a ‘short-term crime plan’ is just code for, ‘Giving all the money to the cops isn’t working at all, and now I’m out of ideas,'” Dorsey wrote.
Under Scott’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, the police department would receive a $5 million increase, bringing its budget to $560.4 million.
In addition to demanding a new course of action, Costello’s letter targeted $13 million of a $50 million U.S. bailout allocation to MONSE. The money is earmarked for a group violence reduction strategy, which uses street-level intelligence to identify neighborhood rivalries driving violence and connects people to services to stop them going out from the street.
A pilot operates in the police department’s West District through a partnership with MONSE and nonprofits, including a youth advocacy program. The nonprofit reported six referrals to offer support, according to Costello’s letter.
“At this rate, MONSE will not even come close to meeting its stated goal of enrolling 125 participants in case management services in the first year,” Costello wrote.
Ray Kelly, founder of the Citizens Policing Project, which advocates for greater civilian oversight of the police department, said he supports calls for transparency and accountability.
“We want to know where this money is going. Are we making the best investment of our public safety dollars? Does it work?” he said. “If not, do we change it? Because it’s a lot of money.
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But Kelly cautioned against quick fixes.
“We can’t just demand a short-term plan. We have to figure out how to successfully launch the long-term plan,” he said. “We know over-policing and mass incarceration don’t work.”
He called for more investment in programs and services, such as drug treatment programs.
Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo contributed to this article.