The city of Baltimore is permanently ending the prosecution of crimes described as low-level and nonviolent, including prostitution and drug possession.
Officials late last week said the adoption comes after a one-year period of trying the criminal justice approach, which they said was successful, as crimes across the board decreased.
“Clearly the data suggests that there is no public safety value in prosecuting these low-level offenses,” Marilyn Mosby, a Democrat who serves as the state’s attorney for Baltimore, told reporters at a press conference.
Not prosecuting offenses such as trespassing, urinating in public, and drug possession will allow prosecutors to focus on more serious crimes as courts reopen from closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mosby said.
“I want my prosecutors working with the police to focus on violent offenses like armed robbery, carjackings, and, yes, drug dealing and distribution organizations that are the underbelly of the violence in Baltimore, not using valuable jury trial time on those that suffer from addiction,” she said.
“America’s failed war on drugs and drug users in the city of Baltimore is over.”
Mosby initially stopped prosecuting lower-level crimes such as trespassing and some traffic offenses in March 2020. At the time, she said the measure was one way to try to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in prison, through decreasing prisoner density.
Since then, the overall population of prisoners in Baltimore is down 18 percent, while Baltimore experienced a reduction in crime in many areas, such as a 20 percent drop in violent crime and a 36 percent decrease in property crime, according to data from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Unlike most cities in America, Baltimore recorded a decrease in homicides in 2020.
Susan Sherman, a Johns Hopkins University professor, said the policy change is “making a positive impact on communities,” based on a lower number of 911 calls for the crimes Mosby is no longer prosecuting and a low recidivism rate for those who saw their warrants dismissed under the policy last year.
The permanent changes drew support from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and local officials.
“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,” Mayor Brandon Scott, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison also signaled his backing.
“We are perfectly aligned with the mayor’s office in the police department that we’re focused on violent crime,” he told reporters during a separate briefing with Scott.
The officials said they’ve seen a spike in some crimes in the city in recent weeks, including a 31 percent increase in violent crimes related to domestic violence since the beginning of the year. Baltimore, which has struggled for decades with heightened violence, also saw 8 shootings in the 24 hours leading up to the press conference.
“There are too many people getting shot on the streets of Baltimore city, and we have to push harder on that,” Scott said.
The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, a police union, said at a city council meeting that the new prosecution policies appear to allow people to trespass at Camden Yards, City Hall, and Mosby’s own office “with impunity,” as well as openly use drugs.
“What’s next?” the union wrote in a tweet on March 27.
State Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Republican, also took issue with the changes.
“Prosecutors take an oath to uphold the constitution in the state of Maryland and the constitution says the general assembly sets the policy, not the prosecutors,” he told Fox 45. “I respect the whole prosecutorial discretion. That’s not prosecutorial discretion, that’s an exercise in legislating. That’s what the legislature is supposed to do.”