Maryland Homicides Soar, Law Enforcement Thinning Out
Policy Makers Caused It
By: Jake Fogg
Murders in Baltimore, Maryland have skyrocketed to a level that prompted the mayor to ask for help from the FBI. At more than 100 murders before the end of April, Mayor Catherine Pugh said that violence is out of control. This is the highest number on record for the city in the last 20 years.
On April 26th, Baltimore CBS affiliate WJZ covered the mayor’s press conference. “I’m calling on all the assistance we can possibly get because I can’t imagine going into our summer months with our crime where it is today, what that’s going to look like by the end of the summer”, said Pugh. “Murder is out of control.”
Many sources in the media are referring to this issue and citing Chicago with its “own out of control” violence. But, Baltimore is really only one example of a trend that is happening in the entire state of Maryland.
Thus, reducing the violence on the local level in Baltimore may require determining the contributing factors, not only unique to the city, but on the state level as well. Some of the factors may include state legislation, public perception of law enforcement, and the number of available law enforcement officers.
The FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR)data base and the Baltimore Sun data base reveal a disturbing increase in homicides for the City of Baltimore. In 2013 there were 235 murders in the city and 211 in 2014. However, the following year, 2015, saw the deadliest year in the city’s history with an alarming 344 murders followed by 318 in 2016. As of April 5, the death toll for the current year is already at 113, positioning 2017 as the bloodiest year yet.
On the state level, there has been a significant rise in the murder rate. The FBI UCR shows the numbers of murders at 384 and 365 for 2013 and 2014 respectively. The most recent data available from the Maryland State Police shows that the state reported 553 murders in 2015 for a 52% increase from the prior year.
The increase in the state homicide rate is not solely the result of the Baltimore killings as municipalities all over the state are reporting higher homicide rates in the last two years. On March 10 of last year, for example, Montgomery County Police Chief, Tom Manger told WTOP News that from 2014 to 2015 there was a 53 percent increase in homicides.
One of the potential factors contributing to the state’s increase in violence is new law enacted back in 2013. A landmark piece of legislation known as the “Firearm Safety Act” was signed into law that year. This act made it much more difficult for law-abiding citizens to acquire hand guns and literally banned more than 45 different long rifles that the state deemed as “assault weapons”, making it one of the strictest laws in the United States.
While the intent of this kind of laws is to “get guns off the street”, there is no evidence that the State of Maryland has seen any real benefit. In fact the Baltimore killings mimic the violence experienced in other large cities, such as Chicago, with similar firearm regulations. While the data is limited, the possibility always exists that some of the deaths might have been prevented if certain law-abiding citizens had been able to protect themselves if they had easier access to a firearm.
Another piece of legislation from 2013 that might have also contributed to the violence was the lessening of the offense of possession of marijuana. In a NBC Washington news report on January 3rd, Prince Georges County police chief, Hank Stawinski explained the impact from what the news agency calls “decriminalization”.
It is incorrect to refer to the law as “decriminalizing” as it is still a crime to have the “low level” drug in possession and there is no option for buying it legally in the state. The lesser offense has created a staggering demand on the street which, according to Stawinski, created for the people selling it, a “struggle for control of that trade.” According to Prince Georges County more than a third of the homicides were drug-related and mostly due to marijuana trade issues.
In addition to poor legislation, public perception and support for law enforcement in general has fallen in recent years. While perhaps fueled by riots across the country and movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Baltimore area riots were also encouraged by the very entity that employs is now asking for FBI help — The Baltimore city hall.
In 2011, Baltimore Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake showed solidarity with Baltimore’s “Occupy” protest at McKeldin Square. The “Occupy” movement in other cities, such as New York, had shown outright disrespect for law enforcement where protestors had gone as far as defecating on police vehicles.
However, Rawlings-Blake dealt perhaps the biggest blow to law enforcement morale when she showed public support to those who were violently protesting Freddy Gray’s death in police custody. On the evening of April 25th, 2015, the mayor made an admission regarding the protests-turned-riots, which put the lives of police officers at stake.
In a press conference that evening, the mayor stated that she instructed police to do everything that they could to make sure that the protestors were able to exercise their right to free speech. She went on to say, “It is a very delicate balancing act, because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”
The Baltimore riots also saw the involvement of the George Soros-funded anti law-enforcement movement known as “Black Lives Matter”. In addition, it was widely reported that various gangs had joined forces to find and kill white police officers.
The anti-law-enforcement sentiment has been felt state-wide and continues today as municipalities struggle to find new officers to replace those who have quit. Echoing the need to change the public perception, former U.S Attorney for the State of Maryland and current U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstine weighed in on the matter.
“If we support these police officers, who are out there working for the community every day, we’re going to be able to turn the tide”, Rosenstine said in a statement to WJZ.
Earlier this year, on January 5th, WJZ reported the Baltimore City Police department was in “Crisis” over a shortage of law enforcement officers. According to the city’s police union president Lt. Gene Ryan, “I would say it’s at a crisis point”, referring to a report that reflected 100 less officers that the previous year. According to police department, Baltimore has lost more than 300 officers since the beginning of 2015.
But, Baltimore is, again, only a snapshot of the larger issue. On January 23rd, WJZ reported that Maryland State Police is currently seeking to recruit at least 99 new officers to cover open positions. It is resorting to social media and advertising at movie theaters around the state. Several agencies around the state have reported being short-staffed and seeking.
The Baltimore Mayor’s call for help from Federal Agencies such as the FBI demonstrates the severity of the situation that is happening throughout the entire state. However, the circumstances are only the result of decisions made by policy makers.
While the intent of these supposed leaders is often done for the “greater good’, their policies are usually based on emotion and not on any empirical or historical data, even though there is much information to learn from. Using this approach often has an opposite outcome from what was originally intended.
The people of the State of Maryland are now at risk due to the policy makers who obviously feel that they know what is best for population. While the murder rate soars, law-abiding citizens are now less able to protect themselves in emergency situations. Law enforcement officers are quitting their jobs as they must work for leaders who seem to be against them. The few that remain are overburdened, putting both them and the law-abiding citizens at even more risk.