Building a Safer City


Originally posted in The Rawlings-Blake Review, Issue #177

Last Monday, we received news from Washington, DC that yet another horrifying act of gun violence robbed innocent Americans of their lives. Tragedies like the incident at the Washington Navy Yard make our hearts heavy, and our deepest sympathies go out to the loved ones of those we lost. Events like these should be few and far between, but as mayor of a major American city, I know that gun violence rocks our communities far too often.

Last week, I joined Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence to stand in support of the Firearms Safety Act of 2013, which will go into effect on October 1. It is important to me that I stand in support of the safety of our communities, not just as mayor, but also in most important position I will ever hold—as a mom. My heart aches for every mother who has ever experienced the tragedy of losing a child to violence. I do not want to lose any more of our children to senseless violence.

I want to share with you a few of the programs in place here in Baltimore that help prevent and reduce gun violence in our city.

The Youth Diversion Program targets youth with no significant delinquency or criminal history who are arrested for misdemeanor offenses. The program provides diversion options such as teen court, community conferencing, aggression replacement, substance abuse treatment, and mental health treatment as alternatives to the juvenile justice system. The Youth Diversion Program is important because it diverts vulnerable youth away from the formal justice system while holding them accountable for their actions.

Through the High-risk Youth Prevention and Enforcement (HYPE) program, the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice coordinates local and state stakeholders—focusing specifically on the most high-risk youth—to identify policing, prosecution, and service strategies to prevent and reduce violence. Recently, HYPE addressed a sharp rise in juvenile-involved robberies and sprang into action. Through a collaborative effort, we learned that the increase was related to a growing school-based gang and its recruiting practices. Through targeted curfew checks, home visits, and increased neighborhood patrols, we were able to significantly decrease youth-related robberies.

Operation Safe Kids aims to prevent youth from becoming victims or perpetrators of violent crimes by ensuring they have the tools they need to become productive adults, and by providing intensive, community-based case management and monitoring of high-risk youth offenders. The program also includes services for reentry youth to ease the transition from long-term out-of-home placement back into the community.

Safe Streets Baltimore, a community mobilization and outreach program to combat gun violence, has five core components: community coalition building, street outreach to at-risk youth, public education, clergy involvement, and law enforcement collaboration. Safe Streets targets high-risk youth aged 14 – 25 through outreach and service connection. It also targets the community as a whole through mobilization and media campaigns. Through a strong street outreach component including neighborhood canvassing, the program focuses on connecting with high-risk youth and young adults during evenings and weekends to link them to services and diffuse potentially harmful situations.

Thanks to efforts like these, Baltimore City has seen a significant decline in youth arrests since 2010, and we are on-pace to see those numbers continue to fall.

I have set a goal to grow Baltimore by 10,000 families over the next decade. But reducing crime, increasing economic opportunity, and improving the quality of life in our city are goals that require strong partnerships between citizens, law enforcement, and city government. As we work together toward our shared vision, I know that we can build a better Baltimore.

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