Crime and arrest data for 2021 provided to Battleground Baltimore by the Baltimore Police Department shows that last year was similar to 2020 and 2019, with homicides surpassing 300, the number of non-fatal shootings more than doubling that homicide number, and comparable numbers year-in and year-out on gun seizures, weapon possession arrests, and other categories.
A major difference between 2020 and 2021 was the conversation about crime. In response to the largest public demonstration against racist police violence in US history, last year was marred by fearmongering and specious claims of a nationwide “crime spike” pushed by police departments, pundits, and politicians—claims that were repeated by credulous reporters whose articles often acknowledged that, although the number of murders did increase, the larger “crime spike” did not exist.
Along with these “crime spike” claims was a common and easily disproved talking point that police departments had been “defunded,” allegedly leading to the “crime spike.” In reality, most police departments had their budgets increased, and budget reductions were fairly negligible. For example, Baltimore Police had their budget reduced by $22 million in 2020. In 2021, the police budget was increased by $28 million. With an annual budget of $555 million, which makes up nearly 30% of the city’s budget, that’s nearly $900 in police spending for each Baltimorean.
Meanwhile, the number of homicides and non-fatal shootings in Baltimore have remained incredibly high since 2015, as they were throughout the ‘90s and much of the 2000s.
In other words, Baltimore City has been experiencing a so-called “crime spike” for most of the past 30 years—and, occasionally, that spike has been even more pronounced.
Still, the 2021 data is illuminating, especially when compared to numbers over the past three decades. There is little correlation between homicides and non-fatal shootings and some of the most talked-about metrics for crime reduction. Higher numbers of arrests (including drug and weapon possession arrests) and gun seizures are not leading to less crime. The city has endured high homicide numbers even when arrests were also high, and increases and decreases in gun seizures—a major focus of police and Mayor Brandon Scott—do not align with decreases in murders and non-fatal shootings (or “failed murders” as cops sometimes call them).
Battleground Baltimore requested this data on Jan. 3. The categories we requested are among the most frequently cited categories by police for determining the success of its crime fight; and yet, this data was not provided to Battleground Baltimore for more than three weeks. Here’s a closer look at what the data say…
In 2021, there were 337 homicides in Baltimore. 2021’s homicide clearance rate was 42%.
In 2020, there were 335 homicides, and 348 in 2019. Baltimore has surpassed 300 homicides each year since 2015. Before 2015, the last time Baltimore City surpassed 300 homicides was 1999, when there were 305 homicides. Throughout the ’90s, the city endured more than 300 homicides a year, although it also had significantly more people. Currently, Baltimore City’s population is around 585,000 people. In the late ’90s, it was near 650,000 people.
The 2021 homicide clearance rate of 42% is an increase from 40.3% in 2020 and 31% in 2019. It is still well below the national average for homicide clearance in comparable cities, which is around 54%.
In 2021, there were 726 non-fatal shootings. The non-fatal shooting clearance rate in 2021 was 25.1%.
The national average clearance rate for non-fatal shootings is about 26.1%. In Baltimore, there were 724 non-fatal shootings in 2020, and the clearance rate was 20.2%. A look at the past three decades of non-fatal shootings and homicides in Baltimore shows that, even as the number of homicides fluctuated (as low as 196 in 2011; in the 300s for most of the ’90s), non-fatal shootings still doubled homicides.
In 2021, Baltimore Police made 13,592 arrests.
That number is down from 16,204 in 2020, and 24,826 in 2019. Arrests have been steadily decreasing since 2006 when the police department, in part due to an ACLU lawsuit against the police over illegal arrests, began reducing its number of arrests. In the early 2000s, under Mayor Martin O’Malley and his “zero tolerance” policy—a strategy I once called one of the “most audacious experiments in mass incarceration in American history”—arrests skyrocketed. In 2003, for example, Baltimore Police made a staggering 110,164 arrests in a city of around 642,000 people.
All available data show that increased arrests in Baltimore do not lead to reduced homicides. For example, in 1991, police made 65,033 arrests and there were 305 homicides. In 2001, there were 93,778 arrests and 256 homicides. In 2011, 60,009 arrests and 196 homicides.
In 2021, there were 1,046 drug offense arrests. 1,001 of those arrests were felonies and 45 of them were misdemeanors.
In 2020, there were 1,348 drug offense arrests, and in 2019, 3,770. This steady reduction in drug arrests is a reason for the drop in arrests overall. Back in 2015, when cannabis possession was decriminalized, drug arrests dropped to 32,939 from 46,231 in 2014 (those lower arrests, however, remained racially disproportionate).
Not long into the pandemic, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced a COVID-19 policy that her office would no longer prosecute a number of low-level crimes, including drug possession, which further reduced the arrest numbers. Last year, a study showed that reducing drug arrests and other low-level arrests did not increase crime in Baltimore, and the 2021 data also bears this out.
In 2021, there were 1,438 weapon possession arrests and a total of 2,355 gun seizures.
In 2020, there were 1,233 weapons possession arrests and 2,244 gun seizures. In 2019, there were 1,161 weapon possession arrests and 2,203 gun seizures. Gun seizing is considered a major part of the crime reduction in Baltimore, with a focus on the hard number of seizures each year. However, gun seizures have, over the past decades, stayed around the 2,000-2,500 range, except for an increase in 2018 to 3,911 gun seizures, a year that ended with 309 homicides. In 2019, there were 348 homicides and 2,203 gun seizures, a little more than half the number in 2018.
Battleground Baltimore also requested the clearance rate for rape cases in 2021, a number that was contested throughout last year. In March 2021, police said the clearance rate was 0%. By October, police said that there had been 246 reported rapes, but did not have a clearance rate number and promised to provide it. They did not.
The Baltimore Police Department told Battleground Baltimore they would provide the year-end clearance rate for rape cases soon.