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Baltimore will no longer prosecute low-level crimes such as drug possession, prostitution, or minor traffic violations following an experimental year of refusing to prosecute such crimes in order to keep COVID-19 from spreading among the prison population.
NBC News reported that the city stopped prosecuting low-level offenses when the coronavirus began to spread in an effort to reduce jail populations and keep the virus from spreading inside prisons. The move was copied by prosecutors in other cities as well, though Baltimore appears to be the only city that implemented this policy and saw crime rates drop.
“In Baltimore, nearly all categories of crime have since declined, confirming to [State’s Attorney Marilyn] Mosby what she and criminal justice experts have argued for years: Crackdowns on quality-of-life crimes are not necessary for stopping more serious crime.”
Mosby announced on Friday that she would be making permanent the decision to stop prosecuting low-level crimes, arguing that Baltimore had shown a potential path for criminal justice reform.
At her press conference, Mosby said that in the past 12 months, since police stopped prosecuting low-level offenses, violent crime dropped by 20% and property crime declined 36%. The homicide rate remained steady, though there were slightly fewer in 2020. Mosby also said researchers at Johns Hopkins University found reductions in police calls regarding drugs and prostitution.
“Clearly, the data suggest there is no public safety value in prosecuting low-level offenses,” Mosby said on Friday.
Continuing the policy will provide evidence on whether it worked for the reasons Mosby said or because the coronavirus pandemic helped cut down on some of the crime.
“But whether Baltimore is indeed an experiment that can be replicated elsewhere remains to be seen. Enforcement of low-level crimes has dropped in many parts of the country over the past year, as police limited operations to avoid contracting and spreading the virus and as prosecutors and judges sought to contain the virus’s spread in jails. But Baltimore is one of the few big cities where violence did not increase. In dozens of cities, homicides and shootings rose in 2020,” NBC reported.
Missing from the NBC article is that most of the cities that saw increases in violent crimes were cities where Black Lives Matter riots took place, particularly Minneapolis and Chicago.
Mosby also said at her press conference that the Baltimore Police Department had agreed to continue the policy of ignoring low-level offenses.
“Our understanding is that the police are going to follow what they’ve been doing for the past year, which is not arresting people based on the offenses I mentioned,” Mosby said.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison told The Washington Post that his officers resisted the policy at first and had to “socialize” them as well as residents on the new policy.
“The officers told me they did not agree with that paradigm shift,” he told the Post.
Harrison added that he expected crime to rise due to the policy, but that “it did not.”
“It continued to go down through 2020. As a practitioner, as an academic, I can say there’s a correlation between the fact that we stopped making these arrests and crime did not go up,” he said, adding that the pandemic may have played a role in the reduction.