Jon Schuppe, NBC News, March 26. 2021
A year ago, as the coronavirus began to spread across Maryland, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped prosecuting drug possession, prostitution, minor traffic violations and other low-level offenses, a move aimed at curbing Covid-19’s spread behind bars.
That shift — repeated by prosecutors in many other cities — didn’t just reduce jail populations. In Baltimore, nearly all categories of crime have since declined, confirming to 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.
On Friday, Mosby announced that she was making her pandemic experiment permanent, saying Baltimore — for decades notorious for runaway violence and rough policing — had become a case study in criminal justice reform.
In the 12 months since she ordered scaled-back enforcement, violent crime is down 20 percent and property crime has declined 36 percent, she said. Homicides inched down, though Baltimore still has one of the highest homicide rates among cities nationwide. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found sharp reductions in calls to police complaining about drugs and prostitution, she said.
“Clearly, the data suggest there is no public safety value in prosecuting low-level offenses,” Mosby said at a news conference.
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.
While many prosecutors have maintained their pandemic suspensions on low-level offense prosecutions, few have said those shifts will remain in place in perpetuity. Some newly elected prosecutors, though, have vowed to abandon low-level cases permanently.
At Friday’s news conference, Mosby also faced questions about a federal investigation into her campaign finances, as well as the finances of her husband, a city councilman. Her attorney has called the investigation “politically motivated.” Mosby dismissed a reporter’s questions about the probe, saying she wanted to focus on her new policy.