Baltimore suffered its highest per capita murder rate last year and some are blaming the soaring violence on a lack of police presence in the city’s worst neighborhoods. Ironically, the city has also initiated a number of major policing reforms over the past two years in response to police brutality.
What’s going on?
NPR recently interviewed a Baltimore clergyman who said his city needs more police in neighborhoods — not less.
"We wanted the police there,” the Rev. Kinji Scott told NPR. “We wanted them engaged in the community. We didn’t want them beating the hell out of us, we didn’t want that."
Instead of decreasing police presence, Scott suggested increasing police patrols. But what will really help the crisis is a conversation between police and the communities they protect.
"We need the front line police officers and we need the heart of the black community to step to the forefront of this discussion,” he explained. "And that’s when we’re going to see a decrease in crime."
Scott also blamed progressives and activists for the breakdown of policing and rise of violence. When asked if Baltimore's communities wanted less police, he told NPR:
No. That represented our progressives, our activists, our liberal journalists, our politicians, but it did not represent the overall community. Because we know for a fact that around the time Freddie Gray was killed, we start to see homicides increase. We had five homicides in that neighborhood while we were protesting.
What kind of reforms did the city institute?
After the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 that sparked citywide riots and a Department of Justice investigation that found widespread constitutional violations, Baltimore vowed to reform its policing system.
Some of the initial reforms focused on creating more transparency between cops and the community in order to build more trust between officials and neighborhoods. The city also put cameras in all transport vans, implemented a “progressive” new use-of-force policy, created new policing curriculum for officers, and even hired an LGBT liaison.
More recently, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis changed his department’s uniform policy to prevent any more plain-clothed officers from hitting the streets. In a Baltimore Sun op-ed from 2016, he vowed:
The years ahead will see dramatic improvements in police-citizen interactions, sophisticated training focusing on de-escalation and equity, long-neglected investments in technology, constitutional crime-fighting strategies and progressive policies that reflect the best of 21st century policing.
But will the reforms help?
The Rev. Scott believes they won't translate to a safer 2018. He told NPR he is not optimistic for the new year.
"Because I look at the conclusion of 2017, these same cities — St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans and Chicago — these same black cities are still bleeding to death and we're still burying young men in these cities," he said.