“Violence in this city is out of control,” Mayor Catherine Pugh declared yesterday, echoing what many of her constituents have been saying for weeks and months amid near-daily reports of muggings, carjackings and assaults.
Pugh summoned reporters to City Hall amid media reports suggesting an uptick in vicious juvenile behavior – trick-or-treaters attacked, cyclists mugged and beaten on a popular bike trail, a family visiting from New Jersey assaulted by youths with sticks.
But in addition to trying to assure jittery citizens that she feels their pain, Pugh also sought to persuade them that, with nearly a year in office under her belt, she’s had things under control.
“We’ve got a lot of great things going on in Baltimore and we’re pushing our city forward, but violence is just no longer acceptable,” she said, adding, “It hasn’t been from day one of this administration, as you well know.”
Flanked by Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and apparently all the city department heads, Pugh ran through her crime-fighting accomplishments to date.
They include the release of a violence reduction plan, the signing of a federal police consent decree (“I told you all I spent 16 hours a day every single day for 60 days” on the document) and the switching-out of light bulbs (“I told you all I would put 6,000 new streetlights in the city and I have,” she declared).
She then explained what she has been doing lately to combat the mayhem: she has created a Multi-Agency Violence Reduction initiative.
“What I said to my departments, my agencies, is that we have to collaborate,” she stated. “We have to work across agencies. That silos must be broken.”
MORE FROM THE BREW:
• Where are the police? BPD’s culture of complacency (10/10/17)
• Mayor outlines a smorgasbord of strategies to reduce Baltimore violence (7/27/17)
Cutting the Grass
What her new initiative has meant for the last week is a daily 8 a.m. meeting that gathers together Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and some 30 department heads and staffers, where each shares what their agency is doing to reduce violence.
“This is face-to-face, so nobody can say, ‘I didn’t get the notice, I didn’t know about that house, I didn’t know about that bar, I didn’t know those folks were standing on the corner,’” Pugh said.
Several agency heads came up to the podium yesterday to explain to reporters their contributions to the effort.
Public Works Director Rudy Chow offered that his agency was doing such things as cutting the grass “to give police a better line of sight.”
Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman said his department is using its authority to cite illegal dumpers and close nuisance businesses and multi-family dwellings.
“These are all things that contribute to crime in an area and a general sense of malaise,” he explained.
Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED), said he has deployed staffers to walk the city streets in recent days and they “met with nearly 700 residents to talk with them about job opportunities.”
Recreation and Parks Department Director Reginald Moore reviewed the expanded hours at city recreation centers.
“We saw 1,000 teens and young adults in our first weekend,” he declared.
Private Funding for Safe Streets
Pugh also again demonstrated her zeal for public-private partnerships by announcing her intention to raise $10 million from the private sector for the Safe Streets violence prevention program.
Asked whether city funds would be used, Pugh looked aghast and told a reporter that would be impossible because “the city budget is overdone as it is.”
“You can’t sit on the sidelines and complain about where we are and not be part of the solution,” she said. “So I’m asking the business community and the philanthropic community to help and be part of the solution.”
As the press conference played out live online, viewers offered their real-time comments.
Some were laudatory. “I appreciate all of your effort, Madam Mayor,” one woman said.
Most others were not so complimentary, particularly when Pugh announced the Safe Streets fundraising drive.
“Isn’t that why businesses and people pay taxes?” one observed.
“You are sitting on the sidelines! Why don’t you be part of the solution. Why do you need more money from us? Find these criminals and make them pay,” Trish said.
“You tax people to death and they have to watch drug dealers and hookers doing their thing in front of their house,” Tammy complained, continuing her bitter critique.
“She said she has okayed putting up LED lights to replace the current street light bulbs so it’s brighter,” she said, “So people will feel safer, before they get attacked.”