As the city of Baltimore marks yet another year of more than 300 homicides, the Baltimore Brew website offers a little perspective on the mayhem that makes the arithmetic even more disturbing.
According to a biennial audit released two weeks ago by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and the city’s Board of Estimates, the Baltimore Police Department spent $940 million over the past two years as part of their ongoing failing effort to curb street violence.
If that sounds like a lot of money — and it is — consider this: about one-quarter of the spending went to top-heavy numbers of police administrators.
As veteran investigative reporter Mark Reutter points out in the Brew piece, it means the city spent $2,915 per week for every individual (and all equipment) employed by the police department.
And still the killing goes on.
It’s a grim note to conclude 2018, but another measurement of municipal futility and folly – of a leadership failure at City Hall and of departmental disarray. How many commissioners have we had now over the past several years, and how much top-level brass has bailed out?
But the numbers also remind us that we can’t police our way, or arrest our way, or incarcerate our way out of the awfulness in neighborhoods plagued by generations of poverty, of drug abuse, of children being raised in one-parent (or one-grandparent) families, and a public school system where teachers are simply over-matched as they’re asked each day to handle all the overflow of delinquents the cops haven’t grabbed.
Three years after the Freddie Gray disturbances, we’ve got police reluctant to do their jobs for fear they’ll be blamed for over-aggressiveness – or at least, that’s their excuse.
We’ve also got teachers bemoaning the numbers of children who are two and three years behind their grade levels. They’re not just lagging academically, but socially. They aren’t getting basic lessons in civility when they’re not in class.
The schools have these kids for six hours a day, but they live in a world the other 18 hours where the rampant killing and street-level disarray goes on and on. The biggest thing keeping the homicide numbers from climbing even higher are the miraculous skills of hospital emergency rooms, where doctors have had so much experience keeping the wounded alive.
Is there a slight ray of hope in all of this news? Well, yeah. The 300-plus homicides recorded this year will actually be a slight drop in the figures from last year.
Happy new year to all.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.