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Operation CeaseFire is Back! (Yet again!)

June 17, 2014
By
Photo by Jefferson Jackson Steele

Photo by Jefferson Jackson Steele

Yesterday’s dual city council meetings were both yawners; the new budget passed with only Councilman Carl Stokes voting “nay,” as usual. (“Too few dollars for youth opportunities, too many dollars for law enforcement,” he said afterward. “I’ve never voted for a budget.”)

But, nestled discretely among the $36 million in “supplementary general fund appropriations” to the Department of Transportation to cover unforeseen contingencies such as the 26th street landslide and Winter, there were two minor items that made news: a supplementary $1,239,800 for the police “to provide new crime fighting initiatives,” and $950,800 for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

Here’s how the Sun played it big, with the headline, “City Council approves CeaseFire, police funding in $2.2 million crime fighting proposal.”

The showing owes, no doubt, to the press conference Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake staged immediately after the council’s 5 p.m. session. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was there too, as the Sun and others reported, touting the new initiative:

“Between law enforcement, a mother who had to deal with the pain of losing a child, the gang member who comes out on the other end of this activity — hopefully we push [repeat offenders] to getting out of the life,” Batts said. “But if they don’t, we’re going to take them away.”

CeaseFire is a concept that crime scholar David Kennedy devised more than 15 years ago to target—wait for it—violent repeat offenders. Studying crime patterns in Boston, Kennedy concluded that just a tiny percentage of criminals, who had been arrested on average about 10 times before, accounted for the vast bulk of murders. Bring them in, read them the riot act and—crucially—give them a straight-and-narrow option to get out of crime, and they stop killing so much, Kennedy found. The concept still impressed last night, as Mayor SRB said: “This data demonstrates that our crime-fighting strategy focused on the most violent repeat offenders is the right strategy,” Rawlings-Blake said.

That could be very true. But also: CeaseFire-type programs have been tried, and abandoned, and revived in Baltimore so many times this past decade, we lost count. Consider reporter Anna Ditkoff’s dissection of Jessamy’s 2006 press release awkwardly announcing a criminal “call-in” for the then-dormant program, called Operation Safe Neighborhoods:

When the program kicked off in 1999, there was a lot of optimism about the impact it could have on the city. Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy called it “the most important thing I will ever do,” and then-Assistant State’s Attorney Kim Morton heralded it as a “new day” in Baltimore crime fighting. Its implementation in specific crime-plagued neighborhoods had positive results. For example, according to an August 2001 Sun article, after the program was in place in Park Heights, shootings in the neighborhood dropped 74 percent between September 1999 and April 2000; homicides in the neighborhood went down 22 percent during the same time period. Improvements were also seen in Cherry Hill and Oliver following implementation of Operation Safe Neighborhoods in those areas.

But one of the programs greatest strengths appears to also be its greatest weakness. Operation Safe Neighborhoods is based largely on cooperation between various city, state, and federal agencies–agencies that don’t have a strong track record of getting along in Baltimore.

How this particular $2 million is expected to move the needle in a city with a $429 million police (and $35 million State’s Attorney) budget would be an interesting case study. The whole nut is less than one-tenth of what the police department routinely spent on overtime in some recent years.

Not to worry, though. The FI 2014 budget included $300,000 for “a comprehensive external study of overtime budgets.”

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  • ll

    I think it is good to be critical of Baltimore’s crime fighting strategies. I also think this article simplifies and glosses over Ceasefire and maybe the author of this piece should read the book. Operation Safe Neighborhoods was a different program… It’s true its going to take cooperation and not mismanagement, while this could help address violent crime and beefs, it won’t solve the root of the problem.