Baltimore’s Gun Crime Failures Tracked in Maryland Public Policy Institute Study
Maryland legislators have been making progress on bipartisan bills intended to help fight Baltimore’s crime scourge. While not as complete as the full package originally proposed by Governor Hogan and the Republican caucus, significant components have remained. The Violent Firearm Offenders Act (SB273) was amended to include language from Sen. Mike Hough (R-Frederick) making the theft of a firearm a felony and increasing penalties for repeatedly illegally possessing a firearm, knowingly giving a gun to someone who plans to commit a crime and using a gun while drug trafficking.[i]
Other parts of the crime package address witness intimidation by making it easier for prosecutors to admit prior statements in court.[ii] Also, annual reporting on circuit court judge decisions will increase judicial transparency.[iii] However, the mandatory minimum sentences originally proposed by Governor Hogan were watered down significantly.[iv]
The legislature’s actions represent the “Good News.” However, the “Bad News” is that even as crime has soared since the 2015 riots, Baltimore’s criminal justice system fails to use the law enforcement tools already available to it.
For example, the city’s Police Department only makes half as many arrests as it did just five years ago, reports a Maryland Public Policy Institute (MPPI) study written by Sean Kennedy. And even with these fewer arrests, Marilyn Mosby, the city State’s Attorney, prosecutes significantly fewer charged defendants, loses in court more often and settles for shorter sentences than her predecessor.
Barely one in four of the 875 “felon in possession” cases from 2016-2018 resulted in guilty verdicts or pleas for these gun offenses. Rather than use the prosecutorial tools available to her, Mosby dropped 36% of these gun cases between 2016 and 2018. Beyond the prosecutor’s office, the Baltimore Police Department suffers from a severe manpower shortage, low morale, frequent leadership turnover (five chiefs in four years), a debilitating corruption and abuse of power scandal, the terms of a federally-imposed consent decree and frequent criticism for its failures.
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MPPI scrutinized Baltimore’s response to gun violence and the prosecution of firearms-related crimes by reviewing offender data, police resources and prosecutorial outcomes.[v] Highlights from the Public Safety and Baltimore’s Inadequate Response to Gun Crimes report include:
- Killings Spiked 65 percent Since 2014: In the last five years (2015-2019), 1,660 homicides have occurred in Baltimore and the annual toll has climbed 65% since 2014’s 211 murders. That means roughly one out of every 350 city residents were murdered in this period.
- Baltimore Police Investigation Unit Understaffed: According to the police department’s own staffing study, the city needs twice as many homicide investigators and must allow them to exclusively focus on killings—something they currently lack the resources to do.
- Baltimore Forensics Lab Faces Severe Staff Shortage: The city forensics lab processes 1,100 fewer firearms cases than the police submit each year due to chronic staffing shortages. The forensics crime lab is so severely backlogged that it processes only one piece of evidence for every two submitted for examination.
- Poor Prosecution and Sentencing Record for Gun Criminals: Only 27% of the 875 “felon in possession” cases from 2016-2018 resulted in guilty verdicts or pleas for that gun offense and 36% were dropped all together by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby between 2016 and 2018.
- Homicide Suspects Have Prior Records: Of the 294 homicide suspects identified from 2017 to 2019, 50% had prior violent crime arrests and 31% were on probation or parole.
MPPI’s Sean Kennedy hits the bullseye: “Baltimore’s leaders need to put public safety first. Without tackling crime, especially gun crime and putting its perpetrators behind bars, Baltimore will slip further into decline as residents and businesses flee. The indifference and incompetence of city officials costs lives, deprives citizens of their peace of mind, erodes public trust and undermines every single policy initiative meant to revive Baltimore.”
Frustrating as well is the willingness of those Maryland politicians who are quick to use “gun violence” as an excuse to penalize otherwise lawful gun ownership, while not holding accountable those criminal justice officials who fail to use existing laws against the unlawful use of guns by criminals.
[v] Public Safety and Baltimore’s Inadequate Response to Gun Crimes, https://www.mdpolicy.org/library/doclib/2020/03/Maryland-Policy-Report-2020-01.pdf