Testimony by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh on Violence Reduction at the Judicial Proceedings Committee Hearing

Testimony by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh as written:

Thank you Senator Zirkin, members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, colleagues from the Baltimore City Senate Delegation, and other members of the General Assembly for convening this hearing on the critically important issue of violence reduction in Baltimore City. And thank you for providing me and members of my Administration the opportunity to discuss these shared challenges and solutions.

Crime, particularly violent crime, is the biggest issue facing the City of Baltimore. Every loss of life in Baltimore due to gun violence is tragic, and the impacts on the community are devastating. 

Crime impacts more than the victim. The aftermath of violence crime impacts the victim’s family, friends, and community members.

Crime holds us back, standing in the way of much needed investment in some of Baltimore’s most blighted neighborhoods.

Violence impacts our children, and far too many children have become normalized to it. The resulting trauma can have negative impacts on children for their entire lives, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence.

As such, violence reduction is the top priority of my Administration.

The challenges before us are great, but so is our resolve to confront these challenges.

When I ran for Mayor, my campaign released a public safety plan. This plan encompassed both short-term and long-term strategies for reducing violence in Baltimore City.

Since my inauguration in December 2016, my Administration has set about turning those pledges into action. Last month, I reported on the update to my violence reduction plan, laying out a series of strategies aimed at reducing violence in Baltimore City.

The Update focused on 4 main pillars: 1) Making Baltimore Safe, 2) Keeping Baltimore Healthy, 3) Engaging Baltimore Youth, and 4) Moving Baltimore Forward. More on that later.

Let me be clear, the current level of violent crime being experienced in Baltimore is not acceptable.

There are 235 homicides so far this year, 17.5% higher than last year’s pace. Non-fatal shootings are also up this year, slightly outpacing last year’s rate. Robberies are 15% higher this year compared to 2016, and burglaries are 11% higher.

Further, I am concerned about the number of young people who are committing crimes, and particularly about the young people who have lost their lives to violence this year. In 2017, 11 young people under the age of 18 have lost their lives because of gun violence.

Overwhelmingly, homicide victims are young black men with a history in the criminal justice system.

Homicide victims in Baltimore City have been arrested an average of 10.8 times. 86% have criminal records. Approximately 1/3rd of victims were on parole or probation at the time of their killing. Almost half have been arrested previously for gun crimes or violent crimes.

Arrests are down 6% this year compared to last, but it is encouraging to see arrests up in high priority categories:

  • The homicide closure rate is 56.2% this year, compared to 31.0% at the same time last year
  • The non-fatal shooting closure rate is 35.5%, compared to 29.4% at the same time last year
  • Robbery arrests are up 5%
  • Aggravated assault arrests are up 7%
  • Burglary arrests are up 12%
  • Larceny arrests 13%
  • Felony drug arrests are up 3%

While gun arrests are down about 31% so far this year, still, there have been 797 gun arrests so far this year.

As I stated previously, last month I discussed an update to my plan to reduce violence in our City. Our violence reduction strategies combine both short-term and long-term actions around the following 4 pillars:

  • Making Baltimore Safe;
  • Keeping Baltimore Healthy;
  • Engaging Baltimore Youth; and
  • Moving Baltimore Forward.

Our violence reduction plan recognizes the need for improvements within the Baltimore Police Department and the need to increase our collaboration with law enforcement partners.

These solutions focus on greater oversight and accountability, smarter policing, and modernization. Our plan includes strategies to increase staffing of the police department, improvements in training, and upgrades in technology.

Our plan calls for enhancing collaborative efforts among our law enforcement partners, including:

  • Working collaboratively with the State’s Attorney’s Office to improve the strength of cases and outcomes, particularly for gun crimes and crimes of violence;
  • Working collaboratively with the State’s Attorney’s Office on strategies to take violent repeat offenders off the street;
  • Conducting major investigations with our Federal law enforcement partners to dismantle violent drug organizations throughout the City;
  • Working with U.S. Attorney’s Office to adopt gun cases and major conspiracy cases at the Federal level;
  • Further integrating Parole and Probation with BPD, integrating agents directly into police districts, seeking violations for repeat violent offenders, and conducting regular home visits in priority locations; and
  • Coordinating with DJS to provide enhanced supervision of certain juvenile offenders, as well as wrap-around services and diversion in lieu of prosecution.

I believe that fostering and strengthening these partnerships is essential to getting our City on track to a safer future.

We continue to strive for excellency at the Baltimore Police Department.

On September 1st, my Administration held its first CitiStat SMART meeting with the police department. Through CitiStat SMART, we will be collecting data and reviewing it on a regular basis to drive progress and direct resources. Through this process, we will monitor progress, provide oversight, and instill a culture of accountability.

There can be no doubt that the profession of law enforcement is going through seismic, fundamental changes. As a result, some officers are less confident than they used to be.  We intend to prepare our police officers to confront these challenges of modern policing.

We have to support our officers when they do their jobs to the best of their ability, exercising sound judgment and reasonable decision-making. Even when they make a mistake. However, we have to do a better job equipping them to succeed.

This year, the police department is doubled the length of its in-service training to address some of these issues. BPD officers now receive double the amount of annual training than the state requires.

This extra training time is allowing officers to receive refresher training on constitutional stops and arrests and new training on best practices in conflict de-escalation and interacting with individuals in mental health crisis.

Additionally, the police department must find its strongest supervisors and elevate them into the next generation of leaders.

We will also seek to adopt best practices and evidence-based solutions. Working with the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the Department of Justice, we are currently working with a team of consultants to create and implement an “ideal crime fighting district” model at our Eastern and Western Police Districts.

This LAPD-based team recently completed a year-long engagement in Chicago, where they worked with the Chicago Police Department to design and implement Strategic Decision Support Centers in the 7th and 11th Districts.

While Chicago as a whole continues to struggle with high rates of gun crime, the 7th and 11th Districts have achieved reductions in homicides and shootings.

The “ideal crime fighting districts” will include pairing civilian crime analysts with district intelligence officers, creation of an intelligence “war room” within the district, developing new processes to disseminate key intel to patrol officers, clearly defining daily missions of patrol officers, and launching new technology such as forecasting software.

This is an exciting partnership made possible by BJA’s financial support, and we are eager to implement as quickly as possible.

Part of striving for excellency includes making key investments in technology, a priority that has been ignored for far too long.

By the end of 2018 we will have laptops installed in all of BPD’s patrol vehicles. The laptops will make officers jobs far easier, saving them time and improving morale. They will also result in greater accountability and oversight, because electronic reporting will improve data quality and GPS technology will help commanders direct their troops.

We will be completely replacing the Department’s Records Management System, replacing it with a new system that will support Field-Based Reporting and enhanced reporting and data capabilities.

We will be replacing the Department’s antiquated case management system. The current system makes it difficult for detectives and commanders to track cases and measure progress.

We are in the process of installing 28 gunshot detection devices in high priority locations throughout the City.

We are looking for ways to expand and enhance our robust network of 750 CCTV cameras.

We are partnering with ATF to find ways to more quickly complete firearms analysis, allowing us to link guns and shell casings to other crimes.

And we are evaluating other technologies, such as crime forecasting software programs, that will help the police department direct resources more strategically.

Adequate staffing of the police department is one of our greatest challenges. As recently as 2012, BPD had over 3,000 sworn officers in its ranks. Today, there are only 2,514 sworn officers in BPD, a reduction of approximately 500 officers from just a few years ago.

When you subtract officers that are unavailable because they are on light duty due to injury or illness, long-term medical leave, suspended, or on military leave, the Department has closer to 2,100 full-duty officers available and ready for deployment.

BPD is currently carrying 108 sworn vacancies – so I want to remind everyone again, we’re hiring.

And on the hiring front, we are starting to realize some progress after several very difficult years.

2008 was the last year in which BPD hired more officers than it lost to attrition.  In 2015, we lost 158 more officers to attrition than we hired. In 2016, we lost 114 more officers to attrition than we hired.

But this year we have already surpassed 2016’s entire hiring total, and we are keeping pace with attrition.

We have 177 officers currently in various stages of training. This is more officers in training than any time in recent memory.

Interest in BPD seems to be surging. Applications are up 27% compared to last year. The diversity of our applicants and the number of applicants from Baltimore City is also on the rise. 48% more African-Americans and 62% more Baltimore City residents have applied this year compared to last.

These efforts are not a coincidence, but rather the results of some very deliberate efforts by the police department.

In today’s climate, young prospective officers apply to numerous police departments. The first one to extend an offer is typically where they will choose. Therefore, BPD has made concerted efforts to decrease the time it takes to hire an officer.

Earlier this year, BPD re-allocated personnel to clear a backlog of several hundred applicants pending background investigation.

Through improvements in the management and efficiency of our hiring process, the average time from application to hire has decreased from over 1 year to less than 6 months.

BPD is currently in the process of fully automating the background investigation process, which will shave significant amounts of time off the hiring process.

We are also in the process of outsourcing our background investigation function, which is another common practice for law enforcement agencies. This will allow the department to shift its current sworn background investigators to perform other functions within the department.

Furthermore, my Innovation Team is devoted full time to evaluating the recruitment and hiring process and identifying further opportunities for increasing the applicant pool and streamlining the hiring process.

Despite these positive trends in applications and hiring, the staffing challenges of the Department remain.

Our current patrol shift schedule requires hundreds more officers than are currently assigned to patrol, resulting in staffing shortage overtime costs and overworked officers. Our detective units are also stretched thin, handling more than cases than recommended national averages.

Our civilian ranks are also too small. Civilians make up about 30% of the total workforce in most large police departments. At BPD, our civilian workforce is about 16% of the workforce. This means that far too many officers are performing tasks that could be better performed by a civilian.

Civilianization requires funding to backfill for officers shifted back into the street, but it is right thing to do and will result in cost-savings in the long term.

To help answer some of these staffing questions, my Administration is moving forward as quickly as possible with a staffing study of the Department. This study will take a look at current workloads and staffing throughout the department and recommend the proper balance among units going forward.

When proper allocation of our current resources is combined with increased hiring by the Department, it will go a long way to setting BPD on the right course.

However, we do not believe that policing alone will reverse our current trajectory. Our violence reduction plan also focuses on long terms strategies around health outcomes, drug treatment, youth opportunity, education, jobs, and development.

Our plan highlights the need to continue to expand drug treatment. In 2016, 694 residents died of overdose – more than double the number who died in 2014, and triple the number that died in 2012.

The increase in overdose deaths is partly attributable to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times strong than morphine that is “cut” into heroin and other drugs. In 2016, there were 419 fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

Addiction is a chronic brain disease, but the good news is that evidence proves that treatment works and recovery is possible. Treatment that includes methadone or buprenorphine prescribed in combination with psychosocial services is extremely effective.

Nationally, only 1 in 10 Americans with substance abuse disorder get the treatment they need. In Baltimore City, even though at least 24,887 individuals need treatment, the treatment system only has capacity for an estimated 17,587 clients. This means that the City faces a capacity deficit of at least 7,300.

Even when treatment is available, it is not always available on demand or geographically aligned with where individuals need to receive treatment.

Under Dr. Wen’s leadership, the Baltimore City Health Department has developed a 3-pronged strategy for treating addiction and preventing overdose in the City.

  1. Saving lives by expanding access to naloxone – an antidote medication that can save a life in a matter of seconds, with no serious side effects.
  2. Expanding access to treatment – we will continue to advocate for dollars for treatment, until it is truly on-demand.
  3. Fighting stigma with science – by emphasizing that addiction is a disease, that treatment exists, and that recovery is possible.

We know that demand for opioids like heroin is fueling many of the violent drug organizations in the City. Confronting this crisis is essential to our violence reduction strategy.

Setting up our young people for success is one of our Administration’s highest priorities, and essential to any public safety conversation in Baltimore. We are currently doing things like:

  • Investing in new recreation centers and renovating existing recreation centers;
  • Expanded the Youth Works program by 200 summer jobs to a record of 8,800 placements;
  • Engaging the private sector to provide 300 year-round jobs to Baltimore youth;
  • Fostering youth entrepreneurship through programs such as the Teen Biz Challenge and the Squeegee Corps.

I have also called for making Baltimore City Community College free for Baltimore City Public High School graduating seniors seeking a two-year degree or a certificate, beginning with 2018 graduates.

Our Administration is extremely concerned about the rate of juvenile violence in Baltimore City. Two weeks ago, a 15 year-old boy was shot and killed in the Harlem Park neighborhood in West Baltimore. A few nights later, a 15 and 16 year old were shot in Northeast Baltimore.

1,166 juveniles have been arrested for crimes in Baltimore City this year. Far too often, we are finding that juveniles are perpetrating crimes such as carjackings, street robberies, and burglaries.

Most of the time, these kids are already part of the juvenile justice system. Efforts in the past such as Operation Safe Kids have looked at combining monitoring and enforcement with wrap-around services for kids and their families for the most at-risk juveniles.

Currently, DJS provides services and enhanced supervision for at-risk juveniles.

Collectively, we have to get a handle on these efforts. That is why I am creating a workgroup to evaluate our practices and policies with respect to juvenile offenders. The workgroup will contain representatives from law enforcement, city government, state government, service providers, and actual young people from Baltimore.

We need to study what is already being done, how we are identifying at-risk youth, and any gaps in how they are being served. I am asking the workgroup to conduct this analysis and make recommendations for improvement.

Also essential to our violence reduction plan is access to jobs. That is why my Administration will host the first ever city-wide job fair at the Baltimore Convention Center on September 27. In conjunction with the job fair, we are also organizing a series of job readiness workshops for city residents.

The Mayor’s Office of Human Services’ “Journey to Jobs” program is focusing on breaking barriers to employment, such as housing, homelessness, and expungement of criminal records.

The Director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, Jason Perkins-Cohen, will speak in detail today on these efforts.

We are pleased to report that there is a strong relationship between the City and State as it pertains to fighting violence in Baltimore City.

I met recently with Governor Hogan to discuss enhanced collaboration to reduce violent crime in Baltimore. Since that meeting, BPD and several state agencies have met and developed several tangible and ongoing collaborative actions, including:

  • The State Department of Parole and Probation (DPP) is immediately putting a DPP agent back in each of the City’s 9 police districts. This is in addition to the 2 DPP staff members already centrally assigned to support BPD. The additional DPP agents will aid district commanders and BPD’s District Action Teams (DAT) by providing enhanced supervision for priority individuals with a known connection to violence.
  • DPP and BPD will collaborate to conduct more frequent parole and probation “knock and talks,” i.e. check ins with offenders under state supervision. Knock and talks demonstrate police presence in the community, reinforce supervision status to individuals on parole or probation, can result in new intelligence, and show that the State and City are working together.
  • The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ (DPSCS) intelligence unit and BPD’s intelligence section will increase communication and information sharing about violent offenders.
  • The DPSCS warrant squad will work with BPD to serve an increased number of violation of probation (VOP) warrants on priority violent offenders.
  • The Maryland State Police (MSP) will be helping to serve outstanding arrest warrants in the City. MSP and BPD’s Warrant Apprehension Task Force (WATF) will coordinate directly on this. MSP will assist BPD with warrant service on an ongoing basis.

In addition to increased collaboration between BPD and state law enforcement agencies, the Governor’s Office of Crime, Control, and Prevention has been a great funding partner.

  • In the current budget, GOCCP awarded BPD $2 million to purchase and install mobile-data terminals in every patrol vehicle. This is a major modernization effort that will substantially increase the efficiency of Baltimore police officers. Having laptops in patrol cars will allow officers to complete and submit reports electronically, run license plates, and conduct warrant checks without having to call a dispatcher. Additionally, the laptops are equipped with GPS technology, which gives commanders the ability to “see” where officers are deployed and to launch and monitor directed patrol strategies.
  • GOCCP also awarded the City $370,000 for the installation of Gunshot Detection technology. This amount of funding will allow BPD to install gunshot detection sensors in 28 locations throughout the City, selected based on historical rates of gun violence. Most of these devices will be integrated with the City’s camera network, automatically panning the camera toward the direction of the gun shots.

Baltimore secured state funding for the construction and operation of a Stabilization Center, which will be a 24/7 urgent care center for behavioral health that will divert individuals away from hospital emergency room and ensure that they are connected with long-term treatment.

Project CORE, funded through the State Department of Housing, is allowing us to significantly and strategically ramp up demolition of blighted properties and clear the way for revitalization.

While serving as a State Senator, and again as Mayor of Baltimore, I have pushed for legislation that would impose non-suspendable penalties for those in possession of illegal handguns.  The simple, illegal possession of a handgun is the most basic precursor to a violent act. We urge you to consider and pass legislation that will deter this behavior, and make Baltimore the great city we know it can be.