A little more than a year ago, right around the time the virus pandemic lockdowns began, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby halted prosecuting minor traffic violations, prostitution, drug possession, and other minor offenses, a move directed at preventing outbreaks of COVID-19 in regional jails, according to local news channel WBAL.
The easing of Baltimore's policing resulted in a miracle: crime in nearly every category decreased, confirming what Mosby and some criminal justice experts argued for years: rough policing doesn't work to prevent more violent crimes.
On Friday, Mosby held a press conference in her first public appearance since a lien for nonpayment of back taxes was placed on her home. She told reporters they could speak to her attorney about those issues. She went on to say putting people behind bars for petty offenses isn't working:
"A year ago, we underwent an experiment in Baltimore... What we learned in that year, and it's so incredibly exciting, is there's no public safety value in prosecuting these low-level offenses. These low-level offenses were being, and have been, discriminately enforced against Black and Brown people.
"The era of 'tough on crime' prosecutors is over in Baltimore. We have to rebuild the community's trust in the criminal justice system and that's what we will do, so we can focus on violent crime."
And with that success, she said, her "COVID policies will now become permanent. And America's failed war on drugs and users across the metro area is "over."
This is a complete shift in how the city handles crime. In the last 12 months, violent crime is down 20%, and property crime has fallen 36%. Homicides were a tad bit lower but remained some of the highest in the country on a per capita basis.
Mosby asked public health researchers at Johns Hopkins University to review the crime data over the last year. What they noticed was a dramatic reduction in calls to police concerning drugs and prostitution.
"Clearly, the data suggest there is no public safety value in prosecuting low-level offenses," Mosby said at the news conference.
Hopkins researchers also found 1,431 people who had charges or warrants were immediately dismissed at the beginning of the pandemic. Only 5 out of 1,431, or .0003%, were rearrested.
Susan G. Sherman, a behavioral health professor at Johns Hopkins, told WaPo that data on repeat offenders with only five reentered the system is "pretty unbelievable."
"In a world where drug decriminalization is happening around the country, the impact on the community is important," Sherman said, and Mosby "really values having an understanding of these impacts."
"When it comes to violent offenses, carjackings, murders, armed robberies, attempted murders, and drug distribution, we are still prosecuting you. The police will still arrest you. But on these low-level crimes, we are no longer using our limited resources on these low-level offenses," Mosby said.
A year ago, Baltimore underwent a grand experiment on policing, and perhaps it's working. Here's a former police officer's take on all of this:
"Crime is a symptom of the disease of our society. For years, we've asked the police to address this disease by locking people up. We merely addressed the symptom. Not the disease," said retired Baltimore police major Mike Hillard, of Law Enforcement Action Partnership.
Mosby's pandemic social experiment has so far resulted in possibly a new direction for the city. But whether the experiment in Baltimore can be replicated elsewhere remains to be seen. Other liberal cities have tried this and miserably failed, resulting in soaring crime all around.
San Fransico is one of those liberal cities that has defunded police and eased rules on petty crimes but has seen an explosion of all sorts of violent and non-violent crimes. Murders are up, people are quickly exiting the metro area, and as we come to find out more recently, businesses are leaving too.
As for Baltimore, it remains to be seen if crime in general will stay low given Mosby's actions as pandemic restrictions are being lifted, warmer weather is ahead, and the opioid crisis in the city continues to rage on.