Baltimore has announced it will stop prosecuting people for drug possession, prostitution, minor traffic violations and other low-level offenses in a controversial move to extend an experiment brought in fight the spread of Covid.
State Attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped bringing charges for a string of less serious crimes last March to reduce the number of people being sent to crowded jails amid the pandemic.
Since then violent crimes and homicides have dropped by 20 percent in Baltimore even as they rose in most other major US cities – prompting Mosby to announce Friday she was making the temporary policy permanent.
State Attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped bringing charges for a string of less serious crimes last March. She is seen at a press conference Friday to announce she was extending the policy
Baltimore saw 13 fewer homicides from the year to March up until now, while property crime dipped 36%.
This coincided with 39% fewer people entering the city’s criminal justice system, 20% fewer people going to jail, 80% fewer arrests for drug possession and 1,400 pending cases for non-violent offenses dropped.
Mosby said Friday this showed that crackdowns on quality-of-life crimes were not necessary for curbing more serious offenses – a challenge to the popular ‘Broken Windows’ theory promoted by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
She declared an end to the ‘war on drugs’ in a city for decades notorious for runaway violent crime and harsh policing.
Nationwide the murder rate soared 30%, with 278 more murders in Chicago throughout 2020, equating to a 55% surge, while New York City’s 131 added homicides accounted for a 43% jump.
‘A year ago, we underwent an experiment in Baltimore,’ Mosby said in comments reported by the Boston Globe.
‘What we learned in that year, and it’s so incredibly exciting, is there’s no public safety value in prosecuting these low-level offenses.
‘These low-level offenses were being, and have been, discriminately enforced against black and brown people. Prosecutors have to recognize their power to change the criminal justice system. The era of ”tough on crime” prosecutors is over.’
Baltimore – which still has one of the highest homicide rates in the US – will now partner with local behavioral health services to treat drug users, sex workers and people suffering from mental health problems rather than treating them as criminals.
Enforcement of low-level crimes has dropped across much of the country as police limited operations to avoid catching Covid and in most cities the number of murders has increased – so it is unclear if Mosby’s experiment would work elsewhere.
Mosby said that low-level offenses were ‘discriminately enforced against black and brown people’. Pictured is a file photo of a man being arrested in Baltimore
The prosecutor’s decision was criticised by Senator Robert Cassilly, a Republican from Hartford County, who accused her of over-reaching her authority.
‘Prosecutors take an oath to uphold the constitution in the state of Maryland and the constitution says the general assembly sets the policy, not the prosecutors,’ Cassilly told Fox Baltimore.
‘I respect the whole prosecutorial discretion. That’s not prosecutorial discretion, that’s an exercise in legislating. That’s what the legislature is supposed to do.’
Asked if she was worried about claims that lawlessness was being officially tolerated, Mosby said: ‘I follow the data. So, what we’ve been able to prove in the past year is that crime has decreased.’
Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison both support the policy, but the local officers’ union has not yet given its verdict.
Mosby is facing a federal investigation into her campaign finances, as well as the finances of her city councilman husband. She claims the probe is ‘politically motivated’.
Despite Baltimore’s experience, murder rates in nearly three dozen American cities exploded in 2020, rising 30 percent over the previous year, resulting in 1,200 more deaths from murder last year when compared to 2019. This graph was taken from a report published last month
Murder rates in nearly three dozen American cities exploded in 2020, rising 30 percent over the previous year, resulting in 1,200 more deaths from murder last year when compared to 2019.
The shocking findings came in a new study examining possible connections between crime, the coronavirus pandemic and protests against police brutality.
‘Homicide rates were higher during every month of 2020 relative to rates from the previous year. That said, rates increased significantly in June, well after the pandemic began, coinciding with the death of George Floyd and the mass protests that followed,’ states a report from the National Commission of COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ), titled Pandemic, Social unrest and Crime in US Cities.
The group, which was launched in July 2020 by the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the justice system and make recommendations, characterized the homicide rate spike as an ‘historic’ and ‘troubling increase that has no modern precedent.’
The 26-page study examined crime rates for 10 different offenses, including homicide, aggravated assault and robbery, in 34 American cities ranging in size from Norfolk, Virginia – the smallest city in the sample with 245,000 residents – to New York City – the largest city with 8.42million residents.
In Chicago, there were 278 more murders in 2020, which equated to a 55 per cent surge year-over-year, while New York City’s 131 added homicides accounted for a 43 per cent jump
Aggravated assault and gun assault rates increased by 6 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively, compared to the previous year, but robbery rates slipped by 9 per cent amid the pandemic that had seen large portions of the population confined to their homes for months.
Domestic violence rates based on data from 12 of the 34 cities in the sample spiked during the early months of the pandemic, but leveled off by the end of the year and were comparable to 2019 rates.
Likewise, property and drug crime rates, with the exception of motor vehicle theft, fell significantly during 2020. Residential burglary decreased by 24 per cent, non-residential burglary by 7 per cent, larceny by 16 per cent, and drug offenses by 30 per cent.
Homicide rates were 30 per cent higher than in 2019, representing 1,268 more deaths in the sample of cities than the year before. Of the 34 cities in the study, 29 experienced a spike in murders.
Chicago added 278 homicides to its 2019 total of 502, for an increase of 55 per cent, while New York added 131 homicides, representing a 43 per cent surge.