Baltimore to stop prosecuting ‘low-level crimes’ including drug possession and prostitution

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BALTIMORE, MD – Relying on controversial mathematics and statistics, Baltimore has announced that low-level crimes including drug possession and prostitution will no longer be prosecuted within city limits.

The decision is based on statistics showing that crime has decreased during the pandemic.

One year ago, Baltimore’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped prosecuting drug possession, prostitution, minor traffic violations, and other low-level offenses. The move was designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 through prison populations. Mosby said:

“A year ago, we underwent an experiment in Baltimore. What we learned in that year, and it’s so incredibly exciting, is there’s no public safety value in prosecuting these low-level offenses. These low-level offenses were being, and have been, discriminately enforced against Black and Brown people.

“The era of ‘tough on crime’ prosecutors is over in Baltimore. We have to rebuild the community’s trust in the criminal justice system and that’s what we will do, so we can focus on violent crime.”

City officials claim that the move not only decreased prison populations, nearly all categories of crime declined. Mosby said the numbers prove that enforcement of quality-of-life crimes is not required to stop serious crime:

“Clearly prosecuting low-level offenses with no public safety value is counterproductive to the limited law enforcement resources we have.

When the courts open next month, I want my prosecutors working with the police and focused on violent offenses, like armed robbery, carjacking cases and drug distribution organizations that are the underbelly of the violence in Baltimore, not using valuable jury trial time on those that suffer from addiction.”

Mosby touted success in the Covid Criminal Justice policies alongside the Mayor’s Office on Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) and partners from Baltimore Crisis Response Inc., Johns Hopkins University, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other stakeholders.

Mosby’s office issued a statement reading:

“The policies enacted over the past year have resulted in a decrease in arrests, no adverse impact on the crime rate, and address the systemic inequity of mass incarceration.

Therefore, the State’s Attorney also announced today the permanent adoption of these policies as we continue to prioritize the prosecution of public safety crimes over low-level, non-violent offenses.”

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Mosby said making the Covid Criminal Justice policies permanent will end the war on crime and reduce discrimination in policing:

“Today, America’s war on drug users is over in the city of Baltimore. We leave behind the era of tough-on-crime prosecution and zero-tolerance policing and no longer default to the status quo to criminalize mostly people of color for addiction.

We will develop sustainable solutions and allow our public health partners to do their part to address mental health and substance use disorder.”

The Covid Criminal Justice policies enacted in Baltimore last year included ending prosecution of the following crimes:

  • CDS (drug) possession
  • Attempted distribution CDS
  • Paraphernalia possession
  • Prostitution
  • Trespassing
  • Minor traffic offenses
  • Open container
  • Rogue and vagabond
  • Urinating/defecating in public

In addition, Mosby’s office dismissed 1423 pending cases considered eligible by COVID policies, quashed 1415 warrants for the aforementioned offenses, and pushed Governor Larry Hogan to reduce the prison population, resulting in two executive orders on the early release of 2000 people.

Mayor Brandon Scott praised Mosby for the reforms:

“Reimagining public safety in Baltimore requires innovation and collaborative effort. I applaud State’s Attorney Mosby’s Office for working with partners to stem violence in Baltimore and ensure residents have the adequate support services they deserve.”

The city is using data from the Department of Public Safety and the Correctional Services to show that incarcerated populations in Baltimore City reduced by 18% during the pandemic. The same data suggests a 39% decrease in people entering the criminal justice system compared to the previous year.

In the past 12 months since the reduced prosecutions, violent crime is down 20 percent and property crime has declined 36 percent, according to Mosby’s office. However, the figures may not show the whole story.

Baltimore has one of the highest homicide rates in the country, and similar actions in other cities in response to the pandemic have not shown the same reduction in overall crime.

According to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice Impact Report released in January, homicide rates rose sharply across the country in 2020, as did aggravated assaults and gun assaults.

Homicide rates increased 30% from 2019, a record increase resulting in 1,268 more deaths.

The report also showed that property and drug crime rates fell significantly in 2020, with residential burglary decreasing by 24%, nonresidential burglary by 7%, larceny by 16%, and drug offenses by 30%.

These numbers show that the decreases seen in Baltimore may have had more to do with the pandemic than the reduction in enforcement.

The report concluded:

“Homicides increased in nearly all of the 34 cities in the sample. In the authors’ view, urgent action is necessary to address these rapidly rising rates.

Subduing the pandemic, increasing confidence in the police and the justice system, and implementing proven anti-violence strategies will be necessary to achieve a durable peace in the nation’s cities.”

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said officers were struggling to follow the new policies. He said that officers were seeing their drug arrests dismissed by prosecutors in court, so they stopped making the arrests. Harrison said he had to “socialize” officers on the new approach:

“The officers told me they did not agree with that paradigm shift.”

Mosby said she expects police to fall in line behind the new policies:

“Our understanding is that the police are going to follow what they’ve been doing for the past year, which is not arresting people based on the offenses I mentioned.”

Some in the media questioned the motive behind Mosby’s policy shift away from prosecuting low-level crimes at a time when she and her husband were under federal investigation.

During a Friday news conference to announce the policies, Mosby was asked about the investigation, which her attorney has called a political attack.

A federal grand jury is looking into Mosby and Husband, City Council President Nick Mosby. A federal grand jury is looking into her campaign, their businesses, and their tax returns dating back to 2014.

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