Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby ceased prosecuting drug possession, prostitution, minor traffic violations and other low-level offenses a year ago as the coronavirus spread across the city and state. Her focus was to curb the proliferation of the disease behind bars, and the change in enforcement brought unintended results in the city’s crime rate.
Mosby and criminal justice experts had argued for years that crackdowns on quality-of-life crimes are not necessary to stop more serious crimes. On Friday (March 26), Mosby announced she’s making her pandemic experiment permanent and ordered scaled-back enforcement.
According to crime statistics, Baltimore has one of the highest crime rates in the country. That said, Mosby says crime is down 20 percent and property crime has declined 36 percent. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have also found major reductions in complaint calls to police about drugs and prostitution.
“Clearly, the data suggest there is no public safety value in prosecuting low-level offenses,” Mosby said at a news conference, according to NBC News.
It isn’t clear whether Baltimore’s experiment can be replicated in other major cities across America. Enforcement of low-level crimes has dropped in many parts of the country over the past year as police have limited operations to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19. Baltimore, however, is one of the few big cities where violence didn’t increase. In many cities, homicides and shootings did increase last year.
At Friday’s press conference, Mosby said the Baltimore Police Department will be a partner in the shift away from low-level prosecutions, and will focus on violent crime and drug trafficking as courts begin holding criminal trials.
“Our understanding is that the police are going to follow what they’ve been doing for the past year, which is not arresting people based on the offenses I mentioned,” Mosby said.
Baltimore Crime Response Inc., a local nonprofit, will work with law enforcement to provide services to people suffering from drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison tells the Washington Post he previously would have believed that the scale back in enforcement would have caused crime to rise. Now, he admits the policy may have worked.
“The officers told me they did not agree with that paradigm shift,” Harrison said. “It continued to go down through 2020. As a practitioner, as an academic, I can say there’s a correlation between the fact that we stopped making these arrests and crime did not go up.”
Photo: Larry French/Getty Images for BET Networks