At a January “Take Back Our Streets Town Hall,” Baltimore City officials gathered to discuss the ongoing spike in violent crime and to tell the public what they were going to do about it in 2023.

2022 was the eighth year in a row the city endured more than 300 homicides.

Organized by newly-elected Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates and moderated by a former Baltimore cop and city Judge Wanda Heard, the conversation gestured towards diversionary programs, but mostly proposed the kinds of tough-on-crime policies the city has attempted plenty of times before: demands for additional “accountability” in the form of increased arrests and enhanced sentences; calls for more cooperation from the overpoliced yet underserved community to help solve crimes; and the targeted policing of certain offenses, such as illegal gun possession. 

“Every time I turn around, the police are talking about getting more and more guns off the streets,” Bates said. “Guns are what’s being used to kill and terrorize our community.” 

The Baltimore City police commissioner, Michael Harrison, boasted to those in attendance that the police had seized thousands of guns last year. “In 2022, the Baltimore Police Department took over 2,400 guns off the streets of Baltimore, making over 1,600 arrests for people with those guns—in one year,” Harrison said. “That’s more guns taken off the street and more arrests than when the department had 3,000 police officers ten years ago. So, we’re doing more work, better work, with far fewer people.”

The exact number of gun seizures in 2022, according to Harrison, was 2,416. But seizing over 2,000 guns is not a useful benchmark to measure improvement, given how consistently Baltimore police clear that number. The department confiscated 2,296 weapons in 2012, and has topped 2,000 gun seizures eight of the last 10 years.

Regardless, while Baltimore police are surely doing more work—indeed, fewer officers are seizing more guns—how this police work is “better” is not clear. In 2012, there were 218 homicides and 370 nonfatal shootings. In 2022, the year Harrison claims Baltimore police were doing more and better work, there were 333 homicides and 688 nonfatal shootings.

About two hours into the town hall, many in attendance lost patience with officials citing data that does not address the deadly reality. Mourning friends and family of murder victims yelled out from the crowd.

Heard lectured them. “You’re being rude,” she said. “So your issues are more important than everyone else’s? Because you won’t let me talk.”

“You don’t know how the mother of a murder victim feels every night,” a woman in the audience shouted.

For decades, Baltimore City’s threshold for an unacceptable amount of violence has been 300 murders. The city has exceeded 300 murders per year in 17—more than half—of the last 32 years. Additionally, there have only been seven instances when Baltimore City’s murder rate has dipped below 40 murders per 100,000 residents—even in years when the total number of murders was below 300. Only once since 1990 have there been fewer than 200 murders per year in Baltimore.

The past 30 years are also marred by chaotic crime interventions—strategies introduced only to be directly contradicted or undone by new commissioners or administrations. None of these strategies have resulted in sustained reductions in violence.

In lieu of significant, long-term successes when it comes to reducing murders and nonfatal shootings—or “failed murders,” as cops often call them—the Baltimore Police Department frequently leans on short-term and often minuscule increases or decreases in police metrics to assuage community concerns. Talk of gun seizures is a way to demonstrate that the police are “doing something” and shift attention away from the headline-making 300-plus homicide number.

Those who spoke out at the town hall were talking about Baltimore’s violence from experience, but what they said is backed up by the data. The Baltimore police are not preventing murders and nonfatal shootings and they are solving fewer and fewer of the murders and nonfatal shootings they do not prevent.

This is the first in a series of stories from The Real News examining the past 32 years of police and crime data to determine the efficacy of varied police strategies. The years 1990-2022 were chosen because 1990 marked the first year in nearly two decades in which the city reached 300 homicides, beginning an extended period of murders and shootings that the city has never fully escaped.

We began by analyzing the solutions police have cited over the years as central to reducing violence: solving homicides, making arrests, seizing guns, and increasing police spending. We found that in years when Baltimore police solved a large number of homicides, murder numbers were high; murders are high again, this time amid plummeting clearance rates. Similarly, Baltimore has experienced high numbers of murders and shootings both when it was making around 100,000 arrests per year and now when its arrest numbers are less than 20,000 a year. Strategic focus on gun seizures is not associated with reductions in the number of murders or nonfatal shootings. 

Meanwhile, Baltimore spends the most per capita of any major city in the United States on policing. 

Common, carceral wisdom on violence reduction has not worked in Baltimore. The city has effectively been in a “crime spike” the past three decades, and in periods where violent crime numbers have dropped, police cannot always convincingly demonstrate that it was their own policies that caused the decline.

Dirty Cops, Dirty Data

There is no way to discuss crime from a statistical perspective without first discussing the statistics themselves. Police practices are opaque at best—fraudulent at worst—and each stop, arrest, and seizure by police represents a judgment made by the officers involved. This means the validity of any number—whether it accurately represents the thing it is intended to measure—that relies on the discretion of police is questionable. An increase in gun seizures at a specific point in time may not reflect more guns out on the street, just a greater strategic focus on guns. Even drawing certain conclusions from the homicide rate is difficult when we can’t easily audit why some deaths are ruled accidental and others are ruled intentional.

The Baltimore Police Department provided The Real News with data that is frequently inconsistent and sometimes incomplete. The data we did receive is often contradicted by other statements by police, and even their own reports. For example, in April of this year, the Baltimore Police Department published its year four review of its “Crime Reduction and Departmental Transformation Plan”, implemented from July 2019 through March 2023. There, gun seizures for 2022 are listed as 2,688—272 more than Harrison himself cited at January’s town hall. 

Most of the data cited and analyzed for this series was obtained via Maryland Public Information Act Requests, which the Baltimore Police Department frequently failed to respond to in a timely manner. Sometimes, the police did not respond at all. When police did not provide data, we consulted Federal Bureau of Investigation data, reached out to community organizations, and consulted city documents to obtain basic information about the city and how it operates. 

All of this information should be much more easily accessible. 

Moreover, the way the Baltimore Police Department previously categorized some crime statistics means that even full transparency from the department about their records wouldn’t necessarily answer questions about missing or inconsistent data. For example, they explained that because nonfatal shootings were counted within the broader category of “aggravated assault” before the year 2000, they could not tell us how many nonfatal shootings there were during the ’90s. A current key metric cited by Baltimore police to determine their success at crime reduction can’t be easily compared to any year earlier than 2000.

Common, carceral wisdom on violence reduction has not worked in Baltimore.

Additionally, decades of perverse incentives to push the narrative of a safer city have inspired corner-cutting, corruption, and criminality within the notorious Baltimore Police Department, both in its vaunted homicide unit of the ’80s and ’90s and its “elite” plainclothes squads such as the Gun Trace Task Force. And since 2017, following the police killing of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department has been under a federal consent decree.

There is no way to properly quantify the effect that decades of police mistrust has on Baltimore City, let alone the harm of real, literal crimes committed by police: beatings, shootings, evidence planting, drug dealing, lying in paperwork and on the stand, sabotaging violence interrupters, exploiting informants and sex workers, and more.

In 2021, American Civil Liberties Union Maryland attempted to calculate the scale of police corruption between just the years 2015-2019 and discovered misconduct complaints filed against 1,826 cops—10% of those for “false arrest or imprisonment,” and 40 of those complaints for “criminal association.”

That 300 Number

“300-plus homicides” has often been a death knell for police commissioners and elected officials’ careers in Baltimore City, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld told The Real News. “If there were 300 homicides in Baltimore, the commissioner was out. I mean, it was the trip wire. You cross that line, ‘See ya, look for another job,’” he said.

When Kurt Schmoke, Baltimore’s mayor from 1987-1999, entered office, the city’s homicide number was nearing 300, but murders didn’t yet dominate the conversation about crime. The focus was drugs, he explained, with murder primarily viewed as a problem experienced by the city’s majority Black population in historically redlined and divested neighborhoods: “It appeared to the community that the high level of violent crime was concentrated in two sections of town: one on the far west and one in the far east. So it was not perceived as a citywide threat the way it became later and is now,” Schmoke told The Real News.

But then Baltimore ended 1990 with 305 homicides—a jump from 259 in the previous year—and the murders became a larger part of the discourse. This rise in murders coincided with New York City’s ongoing drastic reduction in homicides, putting pressure on a much smaller city such as Baltimore to get that homicide number under 300. “If New York had not seen as dramatic a decline as they did, the 300 number probably would not have been as magnified by the press, community, and policymakers,” Schmoke said. “The significant reduction in New York started in the late ’80s, so the comparison kept getting greater and greater.”

In 1993, Baltimore saw 353 homicides, the most of any year on record. 

That same year, Schmoke noted, Homicide: Life On The Street, an hour-long network drama based on reporter/showrunner David Simon’s 1991 book of the same name, premiered on NBC. The book and show focused on Baltimore’s homicide detectives—“murder police”—who were single-minded in their quest to solve each murder and remove it from the hundreds on their “open cases” dry erase board. 

Along with the daily news, Schmoke said, “David Simon’s book, the TV show, and all that stuff had the community fixated on the homicide number, and particularly on 300.”
Cases are “cleared” when a suspect has been identified and arrested (a conviction isn’t required) or by “exceptional” means (such as the accused dying). In recent years, it has been argued by many law and order pundits that clearing cases reduces homicides. This is one of the central arguments of Jill Leovy’s 2015 book, Ghettoside—solving murders facilitates community trust and reduces people’s perceived need to take justice into their own hands.

The effects of zero tolerance were truly devastating for Baltimoreans, and it taught an entire generation of cops that policing was solely a numbers game.

In the ’90s, more alleged murderers were being arrested, but the city’s homicide rate was not that much lower than it is now, when the murders are high and the clearance rate is low. Baltimore has seen over 300 homicides both in years when police cleared over 70% of cases and in years when the clearance rate sank below 40%. Since 1990, Baltimore police have actually become much worse at solving murders. In 1990, the Baltimore Police Department clearance rate on homicides was 75%. By 2022, that number was down to 36%.

The homicide clearance rate is a measure of how often police are able to close a murder case, but it is also a measure of the strength of the political and professional pressure put on cops to clear more cases.

While Baltimore’s homicide detectives retain the shabby nobility assigned to them by Simon more than 30 years ago, some of the detectives who worked homicides in the late ’80s and into the ’90s (including the real-life versions of “Munch” from Homicide and Law & Order and “Bunk” of The Wire) have since been revealed to have engaged in police misconduct. To clear murders, these cops forced confessions, threatened witnesses until they changed their accounts of events, and withheld exonerating evidence. As a result of such practices, men such as Jerome Johnson and Gary Washington spent decades in prison for murders they did not commit.

These wrongful convictions should call into question the validity of the celebrated 70%-plus clearance rate throughout the ’90s. As New York Magazine reported last year, “since 1989, 25 men convicted of murder in Baltimore have been exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Official misconduct was present in 22 of the cases.”

“Zero Tolerance”

By the end of the ’90s, Mayor Schmoke hadn’t located the carceral solution that he believed would get the city’s homicides back below that 300 number. A critic of the drug war, Schmoke opposed calls to ramp up small-time arrests New York City-style, and ultimately decided not to run for reelection. “Honestly, I just ran out of ideas on homicide. That is the reason that I didn’t run for a fourth term,” Schmoke said. “I just said, ‘I cannot figure out any other strategy that’s going to get us under this magic number.’ We tried a lot of different things.”

In 1999, Baltimore City Councilperson Martin O’Malley was elected mayor, largely based on his promises to reduce violence—especially homicides. 1993’s shocking 353 murders was often invoked by his campaign.

O’Malley proposed reducing violence by adopting New York City’s aggressive (and unconstitutional) “broken windows” style of policing which focused on so-called quality of life, low-stakes arrests. The New York strategy, popularized by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then-Police Commissioner William Bratton, relies on the assumption that serious crime is reduced by arresting people for low-level charges (loitering, fare evasion, open containers).

In this metaphor, the low-level charges are the “broken window” that, if not dealt with, leads to more “windows” being broken (more low-level crimes committed), which police argue creates an environment for more serious crimes.

It’s actually simpler than that: Locking up significantly more people means there are significantly fewer people around to potentially commit crimes—and locking up more people is done through constitutionally fraught tactics such as mass arrest and stop-and-frisk.

O’Malley adopted New York’s strategy. He called it “zero tolerance” and, upon his election, enacted an expansive, unprecedented experiment in mass incarceration in Baltimore City. At the peak of zero tolerance in 2003, Baltimore City police made over 110,000 arrests in a city of 610,000 people. That’s nearly 18% of the population.

At the peak of zero tolerance in 2003, Baltimore City police made over 110,000 arrests in a city of 610,000 people. That’s nearly 18% of the population.

Frederick Bealefeld, who joined the Baltimore Police Department in 1981 and was a major by 2003, saw cops and command instructed to petty-arrest their way out of high crime. “The city made about a hundred thousand arrests. Now, some of them were the same people over and over again, but think about that: 100,000 adult arrests in a city of [600,000] people. It’s incredible. And it didn’t move the needle,” Bealefeld said.

In 2003, a year with 110,164 arrests, there were 270 murders and 545 nonfatal shootings. This period of years where murders were below 300 perpetuated the idea for those invested in zero tolerance that increasing arrests had “worked.” It also was enough of a reduction to get O’Malley reelected as mayor in 2004.

Bealefeld frequently adopts a fishing metaphor to explain what was going on. Before zero tolerance, he explained, police were looking for a “big fish” (a high-profile dealer or shooter). But under O’Malley, the size of the fish no longer mattered. Arresting a corner boy, a person who uses drugs, or an inebriated person passed out on a stoop—all were deemed worthy endeavors. In fact, not arresting the drunk guy on the stoop is why more serious crimes happen, cops were taught.

“Eventually, Baltimore, in terms of arrests and fighting this drug war—and in hopes of scaling down the violence—built this massive trawler with a giant net behind it and it would go through Baltimore scooping up all the fish we could get,” Bealefeld said. “But you know what happens when you fish with a net? You catch a lot of really little fish, and almost none of the fish you want to catch.” 

Jails overflowed with people arrested for nonviolent crimes. The effects of zero tolerance were truly devastating for Baltimoreans, and it taught an entire generation of cops that policing was solely a numbers game. Community outrage over these arrests—and a 2006 American Civil Liberties Union Maryland lawsuit against the city and police department for a pattern of improper arrests—made zero tolerance unpopular enough that the city was forced to listen to its residents, tired of seeing their friends and family locked up.

While Baltimore looked for another way to reduce its arrests and its murders, O’Malley took the results of zero tolerance—the city had, indeed, seen homicides per year drop below that 300 number—all the way to the governorship. The Washington Post endorsed O’Malley’s 2006 run for governor of Maryland, citing the “dent” he’d made in Baltimore crime.

Bad Guys With Guns

Soon after O’Malley became governor, new Mayor Sheila Dixon appointed Bealefeld as police commissioner. In 2007, the new mayor and new commissioner focused on further reducing murders while also reducing arrests. Bealefeld’s approach shifted to targeted arrests—as he put it, “fishing with a spear,” or going after “the sharks,” the most dangerous and notorious shooters in the city. He took to calling them “bad guys with guns.”

Arrests began to decrease, with no increase in murders, and then murders decreased more—but internally, many cops raised on zero tolerance resisted. Former cops explained that Deputy Commissioner Anthony Barksdale was especially unforgiving when it came to dressing down higher-ups and the cops they oversee for focusing too much on context-free stats and not reducing violence. Many cops complained about Barksdale’s approach, saying he was too mean and needed to ease up.

This period was also one of aggressive plainclothes policing; both Bealefeld and Barksdale had come up as plainclothes cops—or “knockers,” as they were called on the streets. 2007 also saw the creation of the Gun Trace Task Force, whose approach to catching “bad guys with guns” would soon go terribly wrong.

Then, in 2010, Dixon resigned after she was found guilty of theft, misconduct, and perjury. The city’s leadership changed—then-City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake became mayor—and another new administration meant, again, new priorities.

In 2011, Baltimore police made 60,008 arrests and recorded 196 murders and 379 nonfatal shootings—the lowest murder count in the 1990-2022 time frame we analyzed. The homicide clearance rate in 2011 was 46.2%.

“What we accomplished with that homicide mark in 2011, people thought it was a fait accompli,” Bealefeld said. “The fact of the matter was, it was all just a good start.”

Bealefeld and Barksdale left the Baltimore Police Department in 2012. That year, there were 218 murders and 370 nonfatal shootings. The homicide clearance rate was 48.1%.

By 2015, homicides began to skyrocket beyond ’90s levels. In 2014, there were 46,231 total arrests, 211 murders, and 370 nonfatal shootings. The homicide clearance rate was 45.5%. In 2015, there were 32,932 total arrests, 344 murders, and 635 nonfatal shootings. The homicide clearance rate was 30.7%. 

Baltimore’s reduction in arrests is partially explained by the 2014 decriminalization of cannabis possession. In 2014, there were 13,356 arrests for drug offenses. In 2015, the first full year of cannabis decriminalization, that number dropped to 6,604 drug offense arrests.

The national murder rate also increased by 11% between 2014 and 2015. Law and order pundits invoked the so-called “Ferguson Effect” to explain Baltimore’s 2015 violence. They claimed that, following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray and the massive uprising against police violence, embattled cops stopped doing their jobs, both out of revenge and for fear that they would become the next “viral video.” 

If police refusing to police is to blame for 2015’s murder spike, it would mean that the department is engaging in an eight-plus year work slowdown during which there have been 2,667 murders and 5,588 nonfatal shootings.

No Legitimate Authority

2015 began a period in which the police and elected officials, as far as many residents were concerned, had almost no legitimate authority. The thousands who took to the streets in protest of Freddie Gray’s death were not only angry about what happened to Gray but at the entire city’s policing apparatus reverting to the zero tolerance policies of the recent past.

The United States Department of Justice’s 2016 report on the Baltimore Police Department blamed O’Malley’s policies for the public’s distrust of the police, and for poor policing: “Zero tolerance enforcement made police interaction a daily fact of life for some Baltimore residents and provoked widespread community disillusionment with [Baltimore police],” the report says.

Promises of radical change and serious reflection “post-Freddie Gray” morphed into technocratic reforms and short-lived do-gooder organizations that didn’t do too much good.

Then, in 2017, the Gun Trace Task Force scandal shocked many and confirmed so much of what Black Baltimoreans had been saying for years: the Baltimore Police are ostensibly a criminal gang, creating crime rather than stopping it and lying, stealing, dealing drugs, and planting evidence.

Promises of radical change and serious reflection “post-Freddie Gray” morphed into technocratic reforms and short-lived do-gooder organizations that didn’t do too much good.

While the plainclothes squad was essentially a robbery crew, its public-facing mission was to “get guns off the street,” which they did by driving around, stop-and-frisking dozens of Black Baltimoreans each night. If they found someone with a gun, they made an arrest. If they found someone without a gun, they might plant one. It was a disastrous, stats-driven hybrid of “zero tolerance” and the “bad guys with guns” strategy.

The revolving door of police commissioners has also undermined the department’s credibility. Counting interim appointments, there have been 15 Baltimore Police Department commissioners since 1990, five of those since 2015. Anthony Batts and Kevin Davis, the two commissioners after Bealefeld, were fired because of their inability to reduce homicides. Davis’ replacement, Darryl DeSousa, lasted just a few months before he was federally indicted for tax fraud in 2018. He was replaced by interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle and then, in 2019, Commissioner Michael Harrison.

Harrison was hired due to his role as superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department during a period in which he oversaw New Orleans police’s federal consent decree and was credited for reducing murders and nonfatal shootings—reductions that have not sustained themselves.

Population Decline

Since 1990, Baltimore’s population has declined by 150,000 people. In 1990, Baltimore’s population was 736,000. As of 2022, there were about 570,000 residents. That loss of residents makes decade-to-decade and year-to-year comparisons regarding crime deceptive—and makes some of Baltimore’s most significant and celebrated homicide reductions far less impressive.

Comparisons using the total number of homicides recorded per year without considering the proportion of the city population represented by that number mask how little has changed even in years when homicide numbers have dropped. The murder rate (the number of murders per 100,000 people) is a clearer illustration of the difference from year to year.

In 1993, when Baltimore experienced 353 homicides—a record high number—the population was 724,671. The city’s murder rate that year was 48.7 murders per 100,000 people. In 2007, when O’Malley campaigned for governor on his success reducing murders via mass arrest, there were 282 murders. The population in 2007 was 606,006, making the murder rate 46.5 murders per 100,000 people. 

Comparing only the raw number of recorded homicides shows that there were 157 fewer murders in 2007 than in 1993. But accounting for population between those years reveals that the celebrated reduction in murders is a difference of only three people per 100,000. During this period, the population of Baltimore declined by 16% and murders dropped by 20%.

Fewer people were killed in 2007 than 1993, but how much of that can actually be credited to policing is hard to determine. The city failed to protect nearly the same percentage of people from murder in 2007 as it did in the early ’90s.  

Since 2015, Baltimore’s population has declined by around 50,000 people. Considering the murder rate rather than total homicides also shows just how dire the situation has been in Baltimore. In 2015, the murder rate jumped to 55.2 murders per 100,000 people, from 33.8 murders per 100,000 people in 2014. It has remained in the 50s for the past eight years. During the ’90s when the 300 number first became a concern, the murder rate was in the mid-to-high 40s. 

The national murder rate as of 2020 was 6.52 people per 100,000.

The difference between the ’90s homicide rate and now, when accounting for changes in Baltimore’s population, is about 10 murders. The city has never really escaped its troubling ’90s numbers. Based on the data from the past 30 years, it is conceivable that the spike in arrests during the era of zero tolerance policing in Baltimore had minimal effect on homicide and nonfatal shooting reductions.

Factoring in population change further illustrates how solving homicides does not help reduce violence. Comparing the clearance rate to the murder rate shows that since 1990, the number of cleared homicides has generally followed the same increases and decreases as the total number of homicides.

Nonfatal shootings in Baltimore are generally around twice the number of homicides. The nonfatal shooting clearance rate over the past 30 years in Baltimore is not clear. The Real News’ request to police for nonfatal shooting clearance rates going back to 2000 was ignored. The nonfatal shooting clearance rate was 20.2% in 2020, 25.3% in 2021, and 23.3% in 2022.

Funding the Police

The police murder of George Floyd in 2020 mainstreamed calls to defund police departments, and with those calls came a backlash of easily disprovable claims that reducing police budgets increases crime. Baltimore City seemed to be an ideal candidate for “defunding the police”: The city spends more per person on policing than any other major city in the country and it has one of the country’s highest recorded levels of violent crime.

The current Baltimore City police budget is nearly $580 million per year, which breaks down to around $1000 per resident spent on police.

In 2020, the abolitionist group Organizing Black mobilized Baltimoreans to show up at the city’s Taxpayers’ Night budget hearings and demand that the city reduce the police budget. Their messaging stressed that for every dollar spent on policing, 50 cents is spent on public schools, 20 cents on public housing, 12 cents on homeless services, 11 cents on recreation and parks, and 1 cent on mental health services.

In Baltimore, there is no connection between decreasing the police budget and increases in violence, and no connection between increasing the police budget and decreasing crime.

That year—both a mayoral election year and part of the momentary “racial reckoning” in response to George Floyd’s murder—there was a slight reduction to the Baltimore City police budget. That decrease was followed by an increase the next year. A look at the Baltimore Police Department budget over the past 30 years shows occasional reductions which are often made up the next year.

In 1990, the police budget was $169 million. Accounting for recent inflation of 2.3%, the 1990 police budget was $395 million. In 2022, the police budget was $555 million.

In Baltimore, there is no connection between decreasing the police budget and increases in violence, and no connection between increasing the police budget and decreasing crime. A department which has not effectively done its job reducing violence receives more and more money to do more of the same thing.

“The community is saying this ain’t working, and we need to cut the funding to the police department,” Organizing Black’s Rob Ferrell said back in 2021 as his organization rallied around reducing the police budget again.


This year, Baltimoreans once again gathered at Taxpayers’ Night events to provide their input on the city’s proposed budget. The proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year adds up to $4.4 billion in total, and despite cuts to other programs, includes around $15 million more for the Baltimore Police Department, increasing its budget from $579,579,068 to $594,475,789.

Some budget cuts, people stressed, could be easily avoided if police were given just a fraction less in 2024. For example, Mayor Brandon Scott’s budget proposes reducing the city’s public library budget by $2.6 million. Housing advocates, meanwhile, called for $1.6 million so that Baltimore’s “right to counsel” law for tenants could be implemented.

“I call on the city council to invest in critical investments that our community needs, such as affordable and safe housing, rather than the same field pattern of increased police spending and subsidizing of wealthy developers,” Loraine Arikat, senior policy analyst with 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, told the council last month.

Along with the proposed police budget, the city pays out additional money because of past police corruption. Last month, Baltimore City Comptroller Bill Henry released a Gun Trace Task Force Settlement Tracker, which provides a searchable database of settlements tied to the GTTF scandal and calculates how much money those corrupt cops have cost the city. Since the 2017 Gun Trace Task Force scandal, 41 settled cases involving the GTTF have cost the city nearly $23 million.

At Taxpayer’s Night last month, Terrence Fitzgerald, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, demanded a reimagining of the Baltimore Police Department: “You can keep pouring money each year into the Baltimore Police Department system but if you do not make fundamental changes, rethink what public safety means, and rebuild the system from the ground up, then you will end up with the same police department that murdered Freddie Gray and has been riddled with corruption for years,” he told the council.

Fitzgerald suggested that the city is stuck in a loop of funding an embattled, corrupt police department, watching it fail to meet its own goals, and then funding it even more. The past few weeks of headlines involving Baltimore police illustrate his point.

On May 11, Baltimore Police Officer Cedric Elleby shot a 17-year-old. It was a sunny Thursday afternoon and Elleby spoke to the teen at length on a stoop, and then asked to search him because, Deputy Commissioner Richard Worley claimed at a press conference, the teen displayed “characteristics of an armed person.” 

The teen refused to be searched and he ran. Elleby chased him through the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Shipley Hill. Video shows the 17-year-old removing a gun from his pants and running with it but not aiming it at the officer. As the teen turned a corner, Elleby told him to drop it and, when the teen didn’t, he was shot.

As the teen lay on the ground, residents surrounded Elleby and other police.

“He didn’t even pull that gun out,” someone told Elleby.

“You shot him for nothing,” someone else screamed.

The 17 year-old survived the shooting. He underwent surgery which involved the removal of one of his kidneys and his spleen. He is currently facing first-degree assault charges as well as a number of weapons charges.

Elleby is a member of Baltimore City Police Department’s Southwest District Action Team, a specialized unit established after the Gun Trace Task Force was federally indicted in March 2017. DAT’s job, like the GTTF when it was established back in 2007, is to go after “violent offenders” and get guns off the street, with a focus on illegal handguns.

Baltimore police would not provide any data about DAT’s role in reducing crime. “While it can be difficult to correlate officer proactivity and visibility to what crimes have been prevented, we have seen that when these units are deployed, they have an impact on crime suppression and calming for the community,” Baltimore police spokesperson Lindsey Eldridge told The Real News.

These aggressive tactics by a member of DAT are one example of the department repeating past behavior. Problems with Baltimore’s homicide unit made the news again this year after another past murder conviction was overturned.

On April 18, 2023, Anthony Hall—who was convicted of the 1991 murder of Gerard Dorsey—was released from prison. The case lacked physical evidence, and one of the supposed eyewitnesses to the murder had told Baltimore police detectives multiple times that he did not witness the shooting. Police, however, told the eyewitness he could get out from under drug charges if he identified Hall as the shooter. So he did. Another eyewitness who knew Hall did not identify him as the shooter, and others provided descriptions of a shooter who did not look like Hall.

Back in 1992, this information was not provided to Hall’s defense. Hall was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years. 

Anthony Hall is the 26th convicted murderer in Baltimore to be exonerated since 1989. 

The homicide clearance rate in Baltimore City in 1991 was 70.7%. 

The 2023 homicide clearance rate so far is unclear. In early May, Deputy Commissioner Worley’s presentation before the City Council Public Safety Committee said the homicide clearance rate for this year so far is 13%. After outrage from many—including Public Safety Committee Chair Mark Conway—Worley said 13% was an error and corrected the number to 40%.

At a June 6 hearing about the police budget, Councilperson Zeke Cohen mentioned a Memorial Day shooting near downtown Baltimore just feet away from Baltimore police. “I’m incredibly concerned that people are committing heinous acts of violence with seemingly no fear of consequences,” Cohen said. “Frequently we hear that there was an officer within the vicinity of the shooting within a block or a few blocks—and yet folks are still pulling the trigger.”

Cohen also expressed concern about the 40% clearance rate for murders this year. 

“It’s actually about 47%,” Harrison told Cohen.

“So it went up a little bit since the last hearing?” Cohen asked.

Harrison nodded yes.

On June 8, Harrison announced he would be leaving the Baltimore Police Department. 

Mayor Scott said Worley, a 25-year veteran of Baltimore police, will be the next commissioner. Worley will be Baltimore’s sixteenth commissioner since 1990 and sixth since 2015. 

Along with a new commissioner, Scott recently announced a return to enforcing a youth curfew while State’s Attorney Bates declared a return to policing “quality of life” offenses.

At a press conference about his departure, Harrison took credit for changing the Baltimore police into “a world-class department”—and for slightly reducing violence. 

“I’ve been in conversations with the mayor about my future and the future of the Baltimore Police Department and in those conversations it became convincing to me that this was the most opportune time for me to pass the torch,” Harrison said. “We truly have become the best comeback story in America.”

This investigation was supported with funding from the Data-Driven Reporting Project. The Data-Driven Reporting Project is funded by the Google News Initiative in partnership with Northwestern University | Medill.

Brandon Soderberg is a Baltimore-based writer reporting on guns, drugs, and police corruption. He is the coauthor of I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad. Formerly, he was the editor-in-chief of the Baltimore City Paper. His work has appeared in The Intercept, VICE, The Appeal, and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @notrivia.

Vida Fye is a freelance data analyst with experience bringing transparency to the workings of Baltimore City’s prison industrial complex. He approaches social issues with a mathematical framework and a focus on accessibility to increase institutional accountability and community empowerment.

Megan Kenny is Baltimore-based data analyst with a focus on policing and criminal court outcomes. She is a co-founder of Open Justice Baltimore and regularly contributes analysis to Baltimore Courtwatch.

Andrew Friedman is a Brooklyn-based data scientist and researcher. His work focuses on money in politics and policing, and media accountability around police violence.