Dodge City, Kansas, formed a municipal government in the 1870s. One of the first laws passed was a restriction on the carry of guns within town limits. It wasn’t that the guns alone were a problem; it was that people were using the guns to kill people. The town leaders knew Dodge City could not attract families or investment to a lawless town beset by homicides and acts of violence.
Today, federal law bans certain people, such as felons, from possessing guns; Maryland law bans almost every citizen from wearing a handgun. Nevertheless, people using handguns are killing people almost every day in Baltimore. Already, the 2019 homicide toll exceeds 100 and there are websites that track the stats as if these murders were MLB standings. In 2017, 56 people out of every 100,000 living in Baltimore were killed; a total of 343. Detroit lagged behind with 40 per 100,000 people; deadly Chicago was 24 per 100,000.
If you pardon what is not meant as a pun, these murders are killing this city and we’ve been dying for years. Yet Baltimore has been unable to devise and implement an adequate solution to its plague of homicides.
Gun control laws have not worked, and we need to understand that there are nearly 400 million guns in this country and they are not disappearing. Guns are here to stay. We must do something to deter those inclined to kill from pressing the trigger.
In Chicago, in 2016, 5% of nonfatal shootings resulted in arrest, down from 10% a few years earlier. The homicides don’t fare much better. In 2017, Chicago’s police made arrests in 17.5% of gun-related homicides. Baltimore’s clearance rates for gun-related crimes are also in the trough. For 2017, for example, it was only 27%. To raise its clearance stats, Baltimore began blaming dead suspects. This was convenient for the BPD; the dead don’t oppose the charges.
What this means is most shooters are getting away with their crimes. Punishment for murder is not the rule and the system provides little incentive not to kill. The shooters know the chances are slim they will be caught, and if they are caught they probably will not be convicted.
A 2017 policy brief issued by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard’s Kennedy School reported that, in Boston, when more time, officers and resources are devoted to homicide investigations, the clearance rates increase; more detectives and more technology were helpful.
Police morale affects the homicide clearance rate. A 2006 study reported that when New Jersey police prevailed in an arbitration regarding pay rates, clearance rates went up; when they lost, rates dropped. BPD morale has tanked for many reasons, including the prosecution of police, the DOJ consent decree, the GTTF fiasco, the steady turnover of BPD commissioners, modification of the city pension plan and the recent decision of the state’s attorney not to prosecute cannabis cases.
The city and its police department must take a long and detached view of why homicide crimes are solved — and why they are not solved. Better police incentives, building trust in the community and technology all help, as will long-term stability at the helm of the BPD. The state’s attorney and the BPD must examine the reason for conviction rates. This is a joint effort. Clearly, we do not have the answers, but we know something is seriously wrong.
For sure, homicides create human tragedy as well as a community tragedy. Homicides are killing Baltimore. They need to stop, but until shooters believe they will be caught, convicted and seriously punished, they will continue to press the trigger.
Editorial Advisory Board member Nancy Forster did not take part in this editorial.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
Martha Ertman (on sabbatical)
Arthur F. Fergenson
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.