Baltimore’s Policing Drama

In 2019, my homicide sergeant, speaking to reporters, spoke the truth of our unsolved murders. The few unsolved cases for the year had plenty of witnesses but no one will do the right thing and come forward, even reporting anonymously to our Crime Stoppers program.

These were hardly ‘whodunits.’ They were unsolved because the community wanted them to remain unsolved. Were safety and feared retaliation factors? In virtually all cases, no. Most of the cases, detectives knew the suspects and many of them were in jail on similar charges. None of these were super-villains with henchmen and a network of hoods extending fatal tentacles from jail.

In these cases, there was a near zero chance of risk by calling the cops or the tip line. Can you imagine a situation, being deprived of justice,  worse than that? Let’s consider Baltimore and their community violence intervention program.

Baltimore and HBO’s The Wire

Fans of the ‘The Wire’ are like fans of ‘The Office.’ The question isn’t did you watch it but do you watch it. I didn’t watch it but I’ve worked a wire or two. This star maker HBO series had a lot of authentic elements to it. In 2017, The Economist published an article in July about a public health-based violence intervention program.

“As the nephew of Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, whose crimes inspired the HBO series “The Wire,” and having served time behind bars himself, Dante Barksdale had “street cred.” He used that credibility to convince young men in Baltimore to put down their guns, becoming the face of the city’s violence prevention program, Safe Streets.”

“Mr. (Dante) Barksdale, who spent almost a decade in prison for selling drugs,speaks with authority. His uncle, Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, was a big shot in the more hierarchical Baltimore gangland he recalls. Avon Barksdale, a fictional villain in “The Wire”, a TV crime drama set in Baltimore, was partly inspired by him. The younger Mr. Barksdale was himself fleetingly portrayed in it.”

Both are now deceased. Dante was murdered on January 17, 2021. His gangster uncle, who briefly worked for Safe Streets, was one who succumbed to temptation. Nathan Barksdale died in prison in North Carolina in February, aged 54, having been jailed for four years for trafficking heroin.

 “Baltimore Safe Streets leader Dante Barksdale was gunned down in the moments between those video clips that morning last January, shot to death with nine rounds fired from an untraceable “ghost gun.” “Anne Arundel County police officers recovered that handgun during a traffic stop, about two weeks after Barksdale died, underneath the seat of Garrick Powell but in an SUV with three other occupants.”

Barksdale was shot by an untraceable ghost gun, that was recovered two weeks after Barksdale died, during a traffic stop. Ghost guns obviously aren’t as untraceable as reported.

Hundreds attended Barksdale’s memorial vigil and in recognition of the violence interrupters signature orange shirts, city hall was lit in orange to mark his loss.

The worst mass shooting in Baltimore history

Author and former police chief Maurice Richards writes in his recent City Journal article ‘Baltimore’s Thin Blue Line is Broken’:

“In my 29 years of policing, I have never seen an official policy so shocking—and so pathetic. BPD’s 2022 Brooklyn Day operational plan concedes that drug dealers will own and operate the event while the police serve as their security detail.

City hall was feigning ignorance of any prior knowledge of the details of the Brooklyn Homes street party in their after action reports, since renamed the Brooklyn Homes Critical Incident, while also admitting that they had ‘violence interrupters’ resolving beefs and conflicts up to 45 minutes prior to the mass shooting. Shell casings suggest up to 16 different firearms shooting into the crowd of hundreds hitting at least 30 and murdering two.

Knowing that the Safe Streets workers know the identity of the shooters has rankled former supporters of the community violence intervention (CVI). The fact that they receive five million dollars passed through a murky process to a couple of non-profits creates a concerning veil. Richards further states: “Safe Streets is part of the problem, not the solution. The gang-inspired ‘no snitching’ mentality dominates Brooklyn Homes, and Safe Streets leads by example.”

In a prior July article ‘Harm City’, Richards writes: “But (Mayor Brandon) Scott has kept secret the details of the program’s policies, operations, and finances. For more than a year, his office has refused to explain how the program works or where the money goes. Disturbingly, Scott hides the identities of Safe Streets workers from the public. The mayor has also channeled millions in taxpayer dollars to nonprofits that manage Safe Street operations and put the workers on their payrolls. Scott then claims that the workers are not city employees, using this ruse to continue concealing their names.”

Police Staffing in Full Crisis

Baltimore cops truly have no reason to stay on. The city has been suffering under an unending consent decree with no resources to meet unachievable standards. The department has 500 funded vacancies and an additional 200 unfunded vacancies. Baltimore is a city in steep decline being held together by a rapidly decaying police department. It serves a stark object lesson for Minneapolis and Phoenix. “Every American big city will eventually reach its moment of truth where the future of its police department is on the line. Baltimore has come to it.”

We know what Baltimore looks like when their police department has been crippled by a decade under a consent decree, mandatory frequent and worthless implicit bias training to a majority minority department. Baltimore is harrowingly close to the tipping point where they lack a functional police department. Officers only play a losing game so long before they must make the difficult but final choice. Who will patrol the streets and answer the million plus 911 calls per year? Clearly not the Safe Streets interrupters.

Wasted money and lost lives due to terrible policy

For all the money spent on disastrous CVI programs, the tens of millions per year on compliance with the consent decree, and millions spent investigating the more than 300 homicides per year and to have nothing to show for it but a city on the brink of ruin is tragic. Instead of Quixotic quests, investments could have been made moving the needle on literacy, school attendance, teen pregnancy, and vocational trade programs. The argument that there are no jobs in Baltimore ignores the hundreds of thousands of American jobs outsourced to India. But whatever you do, learn from Baltimore and don’t let politicians do to you what they have done to them.

Please keep all officers, Baltimore and beyond, in your prayers!

This article originally appeared at The American Police Officer Substack.