A year ago, as the coronavirus began to spread in Maryland, Baltimore state attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped prosecuting charges for drug possession, prostitution, petty criminal law violations. road and other low-level infractions, a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19 behind bars.
This change – repeated by prosecutors in many other cities – has not only reduced the prison population. In Baltimore, nearly every category of crime has since declined, confirming to Mosby what she and criminal justice experts have held for years: cracking down on quality-of-life crimes is not necessary to end crimes. more serious crimes.
Mosby announced on Friday that she was making her pandemic experience permanent, saying Baltimore – for decades notorious for rampant violence and brutal policing – had become a case study in criminal justice reform.
In the 12 months since she ordered a reduced enforcement, violent crime has declined 20% and property crime has declined 36%, she said. Homicides have declined, although Baltimore is still has one of the highest homicide rates among the cities of the country. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have seen a sharp reduction in calls to police to complain about drugs and prostitution, she said.
“Clearly, the data suggests that there is no public safety value in prosecuting low level offenses,” Mosby said at a press conference.
But it remains to be seen whether Baltimore is indeed an experience that can be replicated elsewhere. The crackdown on low-level crime has plummeted in many parts of the country over the past year as police restrict operations to avoid contracting and spreading the virus and as prosecutors and judges seek to contain the spread virus in prisons. But Baltimore is one of the few major cities where violence has not increased. In dozens of cities, homicides and shootings increased in 2020.
While many prosecutors have maintained their pandemic suspensions on low-level offense prosecutions, few have said these changes will remain in place in perpetuity. Some newly elected prosecutors, however, have promised to drop low-level cases for good.
During Friday’s press conference, Mosby also faced questions about a federal investigation into her campaign finances, as well as the finances of her husband, a city councilor. His lawyer called the investigation “politically motivated”. Mosby dismissed a reporter’s questions about the investigation, saying she wanted to focus on her new policy.
She said the Baltimore Police Department would be a partner in this low-level prosecution shift, in which officers and prosecutors would focus on violent crime and drug trafficking as courts resume criminal trials. .
“We understand the police are going to follow what they have been doing for the past year, which is arresting people based on the offenses I mentioned,” Mosby said.
At the same time, law enforcement will work with a local nonprofit, Baltimore Crisis Response Inc., to provide services to people with mental illness, homelessness and addiction.
The Baltimore Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison told the Washington Post that the policy had been difficult for officers to accept when it was implemented last year and that he expected crime to increase. He told the Post he now thinks the withdrawal may have worked.
A spokeswoman for the local police union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kobi Little, NAACP Baltimore Chapter Chief, told the press conference that Mosby’s decision was recognition that decades of harsh enforcement in Baltimore had done more harm than good.
“We want to see more elected officials rise up on these issues,” he said.
Kim Foxx, state attorney for Cook County, Illinois, said Mosby’s announcement was the culmination of years of discussions among reformers looking for ways to reduce focus on offenses low level. “Covid provided a real opportunity to test it, to move from theory to practice,” she said.
“What Marilyn was able to do was demonstrate that these changes did not lead to an increase in violent crime, did not lead to chaos in the streets. Theory in practice has given good results. “
Foxx, like Mosby, ended petty crime prosecutions early in the pandemic. But she always seeks to make these changes permanent. Cook County – which includes Chicago – has seen an increase in homicides and shootings. This means Foxx will need to do a more in-depth analysis of the cause of the spike before deciding what to do.
Michael Kahn, director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he believed Mosby was the first prosecutor to walk away from petty offenses for good. Others are likely to follow if they see their policies haven’t caused spikes in crime, he said.
“I would now expect the roadblock to be broken that in the next few months we will start to see people following once they get their arms around the data,” Kahn said.