Catherine E. Pugh, a Democrat, is the mayor of Baltimore.
Much has been reported about Baltimore’s unacceptable level of violence. In addition to those whose lives have been tragically taken, the mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters — our entire community — are the victims of senseless gun violence that continues to be fueled by a persistent drug trade, too many guns on our streets and the systemic neglect of neighborhoods over too many years.
To be clear, we have made measurable progress over the course of the past year, but it has not come fast enough nor in sufficient proportion to counter this sad narrative of a truly great American city. We are not content, nor do we consider marginal improvement in violent crime rates sufficient.
There are few things more essential to the health and vitality of a city than the peace of mind of its residents, and that can only come with peace and safety in their streets. I am convinced that the broad-based community approach we have adopted to deal in real time with the issues that fuel crime and violence is the right one. Moreover, new technologies are providing our officers with the necessary tools and advantages they have lacked for too long. Accelerating our recruitment efforts to attract and retain people who will become solution-oriented community officers is among our highest priorities. We need leadership at police headquarters that is tested, accomplished and sustained. My appointment of New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael S. Harrison to become Baltimore’s next police commissioner will provide just that.
The Violence Reduction Initiative I introduced last year has made a notable difference by concentrating city resources and targeting neighborhood problems in close coordination with Baltimore Police Department command staff and grass-roots organizers. This is how government is supposed to work to benefit citizens — collaboratively and in real time. In 2018, we recorded 309 homicides, a 10 percent decrease from 2017. Although I continue to emphasize that one life lost in the city of Baltimore is one life too many, these metrics are what we use to measure levels of violent crime and our efforts to reduce it. In our original seven Violence Reduction Zones — areas we have targeted with concentrated city and police resources — our progress is even greater. Total violent crime (homicides and nonfatal shootings) was down 24 percent in 2018.
At the same time, we are working to right-size our police department to increase the number of sworn officers and ensure that we reflect the national average of 60 percent of officers assigned to patrol. Now, about 40 percent of our officers are on patrol, a result of past decisions to freeze hiring when we were losing approximately 20 officers monthly to attrition. We recently began to reverse this level of attrition. And applicants to the police academy have increased fourfold. There is no shortage of those eager to serve and protect.
Admittedly, trust between citizens and police has also been a casualty in recent years. Restoring citizens’ confidence and trust by implementing the reforms mandated by the Justice Department consent decree is our constant focus, and it will be Harrison’s.
We have no more urgent priority than creating a new era of neighborhood investment, particularly in those neighborhoods that have endured years of what can be described only as willful, systemic neglect. It is why we have introduced a new Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund seeded with proceeds from city garage leases. It is why we have identified 42 census tracts that are ripe for investment and qualified as federal Opportunity Zones. It is why we have created a new Affordable Housing Trust Fund with $20 million annually going to create, rehabilitate and preserve thousands of affordable-housing units over the next decade. And it is why we are accelerating our efforts to eliminate the proliferation of abandoned, boarded-up houses — targeting 4,000 for demolition by next summer — and working to attract public and private investment to create an expanded inventory of multigenerational, mixed-income housing.
Make no mistake, Baltimore is a city on the rise. Our challenges are real and considerable, but we are addressing them with concerted focus and action that is changing the trajectory of lives and communities that are vital to our city’s future and potential. Like the parents, families and neighborhoods that have endured too much loss, we are impatient for a better Baltimore, one that offers real opportunity and hope for all citizens, regardless of Zip code, race or economic profile. Because we can do better, we must. Because we have the collective determination to do so, we will.