It was mid-February by the time the Baltimore Police Department would tell Battleground Baltimore that, in 2021, detectives cleared just 22% of reported rapes. The national average is around 30%. We’d asked a few times before and the police kept stalling. While we were waiting, however, the police had provided us with a number of other pieces of crime data for 2021, which showed that the Baltimore Police, whose budget is $555 million per year, cleared 42% of homicides and 25.1% of non-fatal shootings. 

That’s just some of the police and crime data Battleground Baltimore reported on over the past month. We also looked at the past three decades of gun seizures and their impact on crime reduction—or, as the data show, lack thereof—and looked at the past few years of policies reducing incarceration enacted by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (we continue to encourage readers to follow Baltimore Brew’s coverage of Mosby’s legal saga and rather public battle with the feds).


Baltimore City 2021 Crime Data: A Closer Look

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.


30 Years of Gun Seizures Haven’t Kept Baltimore Safe

The Baltimore Police Department’s decades of gun seizures have not reduced violent crimes such as nonfatal shootings and murders. Through public information requests, Battleground Baltimore obtained the police department’s gun seizure numbers and other related police and crime data between 1990-2021—a time period of 31 years in which the city surpassed 300 homicides per year 17 times. A close look at the data reveals what more and more people working in the criminal legal system across the country have argued: Seizing ‘illegal’ guns does not reduce violent crime, although gun seizures and gun possession arrests remain metrics frequently cited by police (and praised as a prime example of ‘proactive policing’).


What Impact Have Marilyn Mosby’s ‘Progressive’ Non-Prosecution Policies Had?

The most significant effect of Mosby’s policies is in adjusting how these non-violent crimes are policed. Decreases in the number of dropped drug or sex work charges is primarily indicative of there being fewer of those charges made in the year after the policies were introduced. 

The police are—despite complaints from the police union—taking the SAO’s policies seriously and making fewer arrests in these categories. 

“We do believe that BPD has largely been following the policies, and the Commissioner issued a memo to that effect, which is possibly why the numbers have declined year by year,’”the SAO’s Richardson explained.

The past two years in arrests and drug offense arrests show a steady decline—one that began in 2015 after cannabis was decriminalized—and those numbers have continued to drop.

Conversations about policing in Baltimore are often about resources. How much the police receive ($555 million dollars per year), what they do with that half-billion, and what does not get funded as a result. Over the past month, the city agreed to pay for “throwbots”—tossable, remote controlled surveillance devices—for the cops while a debate about whether or not to reduce police power through drug paraphernalia decriminalization happened for the third time in less than a year.

There is also a confounding demand by some local politicians that “The Block,” Baltimore City’s “red light district,” close early each night because there’s too much crime there. As many pointed out, “The Block” is a short walk away from Baltimore Police Headquarters.  Again, The Brew has been keeping track of the latest developments in this story, which includes a plan to make club owners on “The Block” pay for the additional police.

Also related: Gov. Larry Hogan, who has spent the past few months claiming police across the state of Maryland are being “defunded”—they are not—and has announced more police funding as a result, does not want to fund Baltimore City Schools.


An Attack On ‘The Block’

Nearly every crime that ever happens on ‘The Block’ is in cops’ ‘immediate vicinity.’ That’s because Baltimore City Police Department Headquarters is less than 100 feet from the start of ‘The Block.’

Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club at 409 East Baltimore Street and the police headquarters on the 500 block of East Baltimore Street are about 60 feet away from one another.

What has also been left out of local coverage of this bill is that police are responsible for at least some of the supposed chaos on ‘The Block.’ Back In August, for instance, Baltimore Police shot a man who was armed. In November, Baltimore Police veterans John Burns and Bryan Hake were at ‘The Block’ strip club Chez Joey and ended up tussling with cops who were called to the scene because they had refused to pay their $1000 tab. ‘Get out of my face. I will destroy all of you,’ Burns told state troopers who arrived to remove him.


Right Wing Media Attacks Baltimore City Schools and Gov. Larry Hogan Refuses To Fund Them

State Delegate for Baltimore City Marlon Amprey highlighted language in Hogan’s budget that explicitly said it would not be considering the Education Effort Adjustment: ‘Hogan took over $125 million from Black and Brown children and is now touting this stolen money as a surplus. We promised over $125 million to Baltimore City and Prince Georges last year with Kirwan and he just took it out of his budget,’ he tweeted.

This funding is one of the recommendations made in the lengthy bipartisan Kirwan Commission study, which said that Maryland schools are underfunded by $2.9 billion each year. The commission was created as a requirement of a court order that said the state had long failed its constitutional requirement to adequately fund schools that serve low-income students.


Baltimore Harm Reductionists Demand Democrats Finally Decriminalize Drug Paraphernalia

When Sam could not get needles—or when the risk of being harassed by the cops on the way to getting his needles became too much—he ran short on supplies. So he started sharing needles.

“Fast forward a couple of months,’ Billipp said. ‘He’s three weeks sober and presents to me his … bloodwork. Results from our initial test revealed a novel HIV infection. He was devastated. As was I, knowing this could have been prevented with safe, legal, judgment-free access to sterile equipment.”


From Iraq and Afghanistan to Baltimore City: The Throwbot

The $31,290 in city funds will go to ReconRobotics Inc. There was no need to look for another vendor because, as the BOE agenda notes, ReconRobotics Inc. “is the sole manufacturer and distributor of these devices.”

Indeed, throwbots seem to be one of a kind. The small rolling device—it looks like two wheels on an axel—is able to capture video and audio and broadcast it back to a small hand-held device in real-time; the device can also be thrown and withstand the force of impact, including 30-foot falls. This makes the technology, which is battery operated and weighs a little over a pound, useful for police who can send it into someone’s home, for example, and surveil the location, or to inspect a ‘suspect’ close-up without putting the police in as much risk. Additionally, the throwbot uses infrared technology, letting law enforcement see in the dark. Primarily, throwbots have been used by police for situations involving SWAT.

Once again, the convergence of the city’s inability to hold property owners accountable and the divestment of Black Baltimore has resulted in serious harm. A fire in a vacant building in West Baltimore (the building had caught on fire once before) killed three firefighters, kicking off a flurry of statements from elected officials about the scourge of out-of-town property owners who sit on vacant homes in hopes that the investment will pay off later on while doing little to maintain them in the meantime. Among the most egregious examples of this speculation: world famous Johns Hopkins University.


In Baltimore, Where Property Owners Are Unaccountable, Vacant Homes Burn and First Responders Die

Untended vacant buildings in Baltimore are often deadly. In 2014, firefighter Lt. James Bethea died when the floor of a vacant building collapsed. That incident took place next to another vacant home that had caught fire. In 2016, a Baltimore man named Phil Lemmon was killed when a vacant collapsed on top of the car he was sitting in. The row house that fell on Lemmon had been vacant for nearly a decade by that point.

205 South Stricker Street dates back to the turn of the 20th century. The building is currently worth just $6,000, which means, altogether, the annual city and state taxes on it are around $150 a year. With taxes cheap and code enforcement rare in Baltimore, there is little reason for property owners to do much of anything to a building. Instead, property owners—including investment firms and an often confounding tangle of LLCs—will sit on such a building for years until it increases in value, spending very little along the way.


Johns Hopkins University Sat On Unoccupied Apartments For Over a Decade To Demolish Them

Hopkins had cited the dilapidation of the buildings and the lack of elevators in the buildings as reasons why they needed to come down. Residents have accused Hopkins of intentionally neglecting the buildings over 20 years, facilitating this now-imminent demolition. 

Beginning in 2000, Hopkins began purchasing the row homes along West 29th Street. Hopkins bought one of the homes in 2000, three more in 2001, another in 2003, another in 2007, and the last—the only one still left on the block—in 2019. Little was done to the buildings after that besides boarding them up and leaving them to sit and slowly degrade. According to Hopkins, the buildings they own now have rats and roaches, and are structurally unstable.

Brandon Soderberg

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.