In Annapolis on Tuesday, Sept. 12, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (D-11th ) organized and ran a hearing on violence in Baltimore.

“Any level of violence is too much, but this is out of control. It has gotten outrageous,” Zirkin said. “Baltimore City is the engine of the state. We need to determine short- and long-term solutions.”

So far this year, Baltimore has had 245 homicides. New York, a city with 10 times more population, has had fewer than 200.

“Dealing with the violence in Baltimore City is as challenging and important an issue as I have dealt with in my 20 years in the legislature,” Zirkin said.

Eight panels examined the problem of violence from multiple angles. Mayor Catherine Pugh, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Marilyn Mosby, the State’s Attorney General for Baltimore, were among those called to testify at the hearing. Witnesses and the legislators who questioned them talked about problems, the progress being made and solutions that need to be explored.

“Unemployment among black youth is twice that of white youth, and more violent crimes are being committed today by younger people … 15, 14 and even 13-year-olds,” Mosby said.

The causes of violence discussed included poverty, lack of good male role models in the home, the need for better schools, opioids and other drugs and the easy availability of guns.

“It is easier for some youth to get access to an illegal gun than to get a good meal,” said Mosby.

Pugh said she sees progress in myriad ways, including less attrition in the police department, more new officers in training and almost two-thirds of the police living in the city. There are 6,000 more streetlights throughout Baltimore, 8,800 young people worked this summer in the city, and Baltimore City College is now free, she noted.

Said Davis, “This year for murder victims, we have a 56.6 percent closure rate. That compares with the national average closure rate of 40 percent and last year, the closure rate for Baltimore was 32.7 percent.”

Among reasons for this improvement was more young people texting crime tips with photographs.

“There is a need for real solutions to complicated, long-standing problems,” said Davis. “Collaboration among many groups of people is essential.”

One such group is law enforcement, he said. The Baltimore Police Department is sharing information with Maryland State Police, the FBI, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Homeland Security, and the ATF.

“We need holistic, wrap-around solutions that include tearing down abandoned houses, getting $1 billion for new
schools in Baltimore, and we need more jobs for Baltimore City residents,” Pugh said. “We also need to build housing for the 3,000 homeless people in our city.”

Solutions suggested at the meeting by various panelists included:

  • Community schools should develop into more than places of education. They need to
    become community centers for the entire family by offering parental education and mental
    health services and healthy food;
  • Strengthen laws against the illegal possession of guns, especially while committing crimes;
  • Also in terms of gun violence, examine the supply side by identifying ways to decrease the flow of
    guns into the state, especially from Virginia and West Virginia;
  • Determine if and what types of mandatory sentencing reduce crime, for example, those
    committed with illegal guns;
  • Conduct more research about suspended sentences.

After the event, Zirkin said, “This hearing was much more valuable than even I expected. We heard from people in city and state leadership positions, experts in education, mental health, drug treatment, child abuse and more. We were all trying to identify short and long-term solutions to work on the issues comprehensively.

“So as next steps, we need to have more hearings and involve more of the public by having hearings in Baltimore, then nail down details,” he said. “After that process, we will put together a package of bills before the start of the legislative session in January.”

Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.

Also see: A Cliched Approach to Baltimore’s Crime Rate

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