Baltimore’s May 14 Democratic mayoral primary election will be the city’s moment of truth. The leading candidates are the incumbent, Brandon Scott, and former mayor Sheila Dixon. Their differences in vision and approach are significant. Given the city’s overwhelmingly Democratic voters, the winner of the primary will almost certainly be elected mayor.

Baltimore is one of the most dysfunctional big cities in America. Incompetent leadership and corruption have produced rampant crime, generational poverty, welfare dependency, an unchecked opioid epidemic, and a Third World-quality public school system.

Baltimore’s problem is not lack of money. The federal government has funneled billions of taxpayer dollars into the city, with many millions unaccounted for. Among America’s large urban school districts, Baltimore Public Schools is the third lowest-performing, despite being the fourth-highest funded per-student. In 13 Baltimore high schools, zero students tested proficient on the 2023 state math exam.

As a result of these problems, the city ranks fourth among the top 15 American big cities in population decline. Since Scott was elected mayor in 2020, more than 20,000 frustrated and frightened residents have fled an increasingly unlivable city. Crime is up as much as 79 percent in some areas, and “quality of life” crimes are pervasive.

The mayoral primary election offers Baltimoreans another chance to reclaim their city from lawlessness. In 2022, they began that effort by voting state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby out of office. Mosby was a George Soros-backed prosecutor who believed the American criminal justice system must be dismantled through subversive de-prosecution policies. Crime exploded as Mosby “reimagined” the mission of the state’s attorney by instituting pro-criminal/anti-victim policies. Homicides skyrocketed 62 percent during her first year in office. Violent criminals roamed Baltimore streets as Mosby dropped or lost 44 percent of her felony cases and made plea bargains that subsequently resulted in murder and other savage crimes.

But it was Mosby’s policy on quality-of-life crimes that ripped apart the social fabric of the city. In the name of “social justice” and “racial equity,” Mosby refused to prosecute drug possession, possession with intent to distribute, street prostitution, trespassing, open alcohol containers, urination and defecation in public, and theft from vehicles. Mayor Scott supported Mosby’s non-prosecution policy and directed his police commissioner to get on board. Misdemeanor drug arrests dropped 91 percent, open-air drug markets flourished, and entire neighborhoods fell apart.

Ivan Bates defeated Mosby in the 2022 election. He rescinded Mosby’s “criminals first” policies and has aggressively prosecuted dangerous lawbreakers, targeting gun crimes and repeat violent offenders. In partnership with U.S. Attorney Erek Barron, Bates has significantly reduced murders and nonfatal shootings. 

When Bates took office, I predicted that he would see only limited success in his first two years, because Scott shares Mosby’s pro-criminal ideology. The state’s attorney can only prosecute offenders whom the police have arrested or cited. If cops don’t take enforcement action, the state’s attorney has no one to prosecute. 

Nevertheless, enforcement of quality-of-life laws and ordinances is a vital component of Bates’ crime-fighting strategy. Mindful of Baltimore’s burdensome federal consent decree, which discourages the Baltimore Police Department from hands-on enforcement, and Scott’s opposition to any enforcement for quality-of-life crime, Bates developed the Citation Docket—a well thought-out program targeting nonviolent quality-of-life crime offenders. The program deploys a series of steps, including citation penalties, community-service hours, and intervention programs, before arrest and prosecution. But Scott remained opposed to quality-of-life enforcement and apparently directed his new police commissioner not to implement the program. This year, Baltimore police have issued only 15 quality-of-life citations across the entire city—fewer than one per week.

Mayor Scott’s opposition to enforcement and the corresponding police passivity have produced exploding crime rates. The Baltimore Police Department recently released an annual report comparing 2023 crime with that of the previous year. The numbers speak for themselves. Except for homicides and nonfatal shootings—the two crimes that Bates has been most able to reduce with his prosecution policy—crime is up sharply in almost every category in 221 out of Baltimore’s 278 neighborhoods. In the city’s famed Inner Harbor, robberies have increased 139 percent and homicides by 44 percent. In Little Italy, aggravated assaults are up 700 percent. In Fells Point auto thefts have increased 184 percent, and shootings by 133 percent. Residents of Patterson Park have seen violent crime spike by 90 percent and auto thefts by 175 percent. In Canton, property crimes jumped 76 percent, and auto theft is up an astounding 472 percent. And in downtown Baltimore, mobs of juvenile predators prowl undeterred, beating and robbing defenseless victims.

In Patterson Park, a woman had a window of her parked car smashed twice in two weeks. “It’s just frustrating and got me to thinking, is this a safe place for me to be?” she said. Another fed-up Patterson Park victim declared, “We’re moving out at the end of this month.” A woman in the Inner Harbor explained how fear of crime has affected her. “I don’t come out at night. I try to do everything during the day, and I go back in the house and stay.” Echoing similar fear in Canton, another woman reported, “This used to be a safe area. And now I’m running to my car at night.” A resident and business owner in Little Italy got to the root of the problem: “The biggest problem is the police force, there’s not enough.”

What is going on in Baltimore? It’s not complicated. When neighborhood disorder, decay, and low-level crime are tolerated, lawlessness increases and creates an environment in which more serious crime occurs. Fear of crime results in law-abiding citizens surrendering streets, parks, and other public spaces to drug dealers, gangs, and other criminals. Residents hide in their homes at first but eventually move out—if they can. Neighborhoods disintegrate.

When it became clear that Mayor Scott would not abandon Mosby’s non-enforcement philosophy, Bates endorsed Sheila Dixon for mayor. Dixon says that she will make quality-of-life policing a priority and has a track record of significant crime reduction during her previous term as mayor (2007–2010). Admittedly, Dixon’s history is far from perfect: various corruption charges forced her to accept a plea deal to receive probation in exchange for her resignation from the mayor’s office.

Other law enforcement leaders have followed Bates’s lead in backing the former mayor. Baltimore City Sheriff Sam Cogen endorsed Dixon, also citing Scott’s refusal to work in a crime-fighting partnership. Another top-tier lawman supporting Dixon is Johnny Hughes, retired United States Marshal for the District of Maryland. Hughes recently joined Dixon, Bates, and Cagen in a crime walk through his Federal Hill neighborhood.    

The candidates have put forward different visions of policing, as well. Dixon aims to rebuild the ranks of the BPD and create a proactive, community policing-based organization that fights crime at all levels. The goals must be to protect law-abiding citizens, target crime and disorder as identified by police and residents, and restore public order and safety in all neighborhoods.

Baltimore doesn’t have to guess how Scott’s vision differs; he’s had four years to show it. As city council president, Scott championed a defund-the-police campaign that slashed the department’s budget by $22 million. He brought that spirit into the mayor’s office, issuing policies that have destroyed the morale of the city’s police force.

The Baltimore Police Department now has 700 unfilled vacancies and is losing more personnel each month. Veteran officers continue to bail out through early retirement or by joining other departments. Police response times are slow. Officer visibility is almost nonexistent. Shifts are so shorthanded that officers can do little more than run from call to call. Last November, in the Southeast District, staffing was so short it took police an hour to respond to a 911 call of a mother hiding in a bedroom with her two little girls as masked burglars ransacked their home.

The essence of Scott’s crime plan, the Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS), is apparently to replace cops with social workers. The GVRS delegitimizes the police, describing the police department as a systemically racist institution.

Safe Streets, Baltimore’s “flagship gun violence-reduction initiative” since 2007 and highly touted by Mayor Scott, has been a disaster. The program hires ex-convicts and supposedly reformed gang members as “violence interrupters” to mediate conflicts between gang members, drug dealers, and other violent criminals. Safe Streets workers are trained not to cooperate with the police. According to federal investigators, members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang have been tied to Safe Streets for years, having used at least one Safe Streets storefront as a clubhouse to conduct gang activities, store their drugs and guns, and plan “hits on rival gang members.” 

Before and during last July’s “Brooklyn Day” celebration at the Brooklyn Homes public housing project, Safes Streets workers deliberately withheld vital information from the police. The result of their non-cooperation was the worst mass shooting in Baltimore’s history, with 30 people shot and two killed. 

The upcoming mayoral primary election is about survival. Baltimoreans need to complete the journey they started two years ago to restore safety and order in their neighborhoods. This is Charm City’s big chance. It may also be its last.

Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


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