Safe Streets: Baltimore’s Secret Crime Fighting Weapon

Baltimore’s Safe Streets program was found to decrease homicides by 50% in the four areas it has been deployed, so why is the program underfunded?

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Baltimore’s reputation as one of the country’s most violent cities has been difficult to change, despite spending nearly 30% of its discretionary budget on public safety, including almost half a billion annually on policing alone, cops and courts. There’s been little success in budging the city’s perch atop the list of the country’s most violent.

Which is why city leaders have started turning to programs like Safe Streets, an alternative approach to reducing violence.

GREGORY MASHBURN, SAFE STREETS: No, we’re not armed with weapons. We’re armed with knowledge. We’re armed with street knowledge.

NOOR: Which enlists people from the community, not cops, to act as peacemakers.

MASHBURN: We have trainers, and also the trainers cultivate what we already knew and learned, what I was groomed for in the street. When I first came here I was telling my friend, I was like, I don’t have no resume. He said, you are your resume.

NOOR: Safe Streets’ Gregory Mashburn talks about his unique qualifications.

MASHBURN: Since the age of 15 to the age of 34, I’ve been shot fourteen times, four separate occasions. Stabbed twenty times. Throat cut with a straight razor from my chin to my ear. Seventeen and a half years in prison. Had attempted murders, armed robberies. Drugs.

NOOR: The program is administered by the city’s health department. Agency director Leana Wen says the idea is to tackle violence as a problem of public health, not criminal justice.

LEANA WEN, HEALTH COMMISSIONER, BALTIMORE CITY: Because we know that violence is something that spreads, we know that it’s infectious, we know that it creates fear and havoc among people and communities. And just like infectious diseases, it’s something that can be prevented.

NOOR: And according to studies, including one in 2012 by Johns Hopkins University, it has done just that.

WEN: And not only is it stopping violence, but it’s also giving an opportunity to individuals who otherwise would have trouble finding employment. Many of the individuals who we hire as the violence interrupters, they also do have criminal records themselves. But we really think it’s important to find people who walked in their shoes, but also we think it’s important to give people another chance.

NOOR: But despite the appearance of success, funding is a challenge. The city employs just eighteen violence interrupters, a deficiency that is raising questions about why programs like Safe Streets are chronically underfunded, and why there isn’t a larger emphasis on creating jobs in disinvested neighborhoods while decreasing policies like the war on drugs that drive mass incarceration.

From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.

End

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