O'Malley initiative isn't the reason murder rate is declining

January 06, 2012

Peter Hermann's story on Baltimore murders accurately described the challenges the city faces even as violence there has dropped ("Baltimore murder victims, suspects share ties to criminal justice system," Jan. 2).

However, the progress has also allowed Gov. Martin O'Malley to declare that his Violence Prevention Initiative was responsible for the decline — an overreaching claim that flies in the face of data.

Baltimore's murder rate has been decreasing for more than a decade, closely tracking a national trend, and it began dropping long before the governor's initiative was launched.

It's more likely that the city's drop in violence was brought about by the same complex of factors that caused the nation's homicide rate to decline. As your newspaper noted last May, "It is no coincidence that Baltimore's crime rates have gone down at the same time that its student test scores have gone up … and [everyone] who works to strengthen the community may have as much to do with the drop in violence as [police] Commissioner Bealefeld."

The truth is, the governor's Violence Prevention Initiative actually increased recidivism among those who are struggling in this tough economy by subjecting them to a litany of reporting requirements and constant scrutiny that would be difficult for anyone to comply with.

Under the Violence Prevention Initiative, even a minor violation can send someone back to prison for years. While other states — as well as many state and local officials in Maryland — are focusing on helping people on parole and probation succeed, the Violence Prevention Initiative is a return to the failed "tail 'em, nail 'em and jail 'em" practices of the past.

If the initiative deserves credit for anything, it's for making Maryland one of the handful of states whose prison population actually increased in 2010, while the country as a whole saw its first drop ever in the number of incarcerated people.

Baltimore organizations and officials deserve praise for their roles in the city's declining murder and violent crime rates. As a former Baltimore City mayor, the governor should lay off the horn-tooting about his initiative and instead recognize that it was the long-term effort by many people to improve the well-being of youth and communities that is now paying dividends in terms of public safety.

Tracy Velázquez, Washington

The writer is executive director of the Justice Policy Institute.

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