Press Releases

City Will Take New Progressive Direction on Arrests and Prosecution of Minor Offenses

New Community Partnerships Formed to Refer People to Support Services

Baltimore (March 26, 2021) - Today, State’s Attorney Mosby announced the one-year success of the Covid Criminal Justice policies alongside the Mayor’s Office on Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) and partners from Baltimore Crisis Response Inc., Johns Hopkins University, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other stakeholders. The policies enacted over the past year have resulted in a decrease in arrests, no adverse impact on the crime rate, and address the systemic inequity of mass incarceration. Therefore, the State’s Attorney also announced today the permanent adoption of these policies as we continue to prioritize the prosecution of public safety crimes over low-level, non-violent offenses.

“Today, America’s war on drug users is over in the city of Baltimore. We leave behind the era of tough-on-crime prosecution and zero tolerance policing and no longer default to the status quo to criminalize mostly people of color for addiction. We will develop sustainable solutions and allow our public health partners to do their part to address mental health and substance use disorder," said State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. 

Reimagining public safety in Baltimore requires innovation and collaborative effort. I applaud State’s Attorney Mosby’s Office for working with partners to stem violence in Baltimore and ensure residents have the adequate support services they deserve,” said Mayor Brandon Scott.

“The Baltimore Police Department continues to work collaboratively with the State’s Attorney Office to focus on violent crimes and reducing violence in our city,” said Commissioner Michael Harrison. “We will continue to be responsive to the public safety needs of our residents and hold violent criminals accountable.”

One year ago, the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office (SAO), consulted with public health experts to adopt a progressive, common sense approach to crime and slow the spread of COVID-19 in prison and jails. As a result, the office decided to stop prosecuting the following offenses:

  • CDS (drug) possession
  • Attempted distribution CDS
  • Paraphernalia possession
  • Prostitution
  • Trespassing  
  • Minor traffic offenses
  • Open container
  • Rogue and vagabond
  • Urinating/defecating in public

Furthermore, during this past year, the SAO:

  • Dismissed 1423 pending cases considered eligible by COVID policies
  • Quashed 1415 warrants for the aforementioned offenses
  • Pushed Governor Hogan to reduce the prison population, resulting in two executive orders on the early release of 2000 people

The results of these policies have been nothing short of successful. According to data from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the overall incarcerated population in Baltimore City is down 18% during COVID and the data reveals there has been a 39% decrease in people entering the criminal justice system compared to this time last year.

On crime and public safety, the data during this time has also been very encouraging. Unlike many American cities, Baltimore City experienced a reduction in crime in many areas, including:

  • Violent crime is down 20% (comparing March 13, 2020 and March 13, 2021)
  • Property crime is down 36% (same period)

To examine impact of the policy shift on the public, the SAO partnered with researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to analyze the policy and its impact on public safety.

The data showed that 911 calls about drug use, public intoxication and sex work (a proxy for public concern) did not increase following the policy; rather, from March – December 2020, there was a 33% reduction in calls mentioning drugs and a 50% reduction in calls mentioning sex work compared to the prior 2 years. Further, of the nearly 1,500 individuals with quashed warrants or dismissed charges, only 0.4% (5 individuals) were arrested for any other crime during the 8-month period following the policy change. (Results of the study are preliminary and subject to change as the analysis of remaining cases and adjustment for other factors are ongoing.) 

Based on the data, the SAO has concluded the following:

  • There is no public safety value in prosecuting these offenses.
  • Prosecution of these offenses would be counterproductive given the limited resources we have to prosecute crimes that threaten public safety. 
  • These offenses are often discriminately enforced and thus hinder equity in, and breed mistrust of, the criminal justice system.

Therefore, the COVID policies will now become permanent and BPD is also committed to continuing to use its discretion when arresting for those enumerated offenses. 

"Clearly prosecuting low-level offenses with no public safety value is counterproductive to the limited law enforcement resources we have. When the courts open next month, I want my prosecutors working with the police and focused on violent offenses, like armed robbery, carjacking cases and drug distribution organizations that are the underbelly of the violence in Baltimore, not using valuable jury trial time on those that suffer from addiction,” said State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

The State’s Attorney’s office is also collaborating with BPD, Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. (BCRI), and other community organizations to reduce unnecessary contact with law enforcement for these offenses, and align with our shared approach to lesser offenses. Rather than arrest and prosecution, BCRI will connect individuals with services in areas such as mental health, housing, and substance use.  The SAO, BPD, and BCRI are also working to support sex workers by partnering with local organizations like SPARC, Baltimore Safe Haven, and SWOP Baltimore.

“The fact that we saw drops in 911 calls and recidivism for these offenses shows us that communities are less impacted by these announcements than one might assume. The trend is different for other offenses during that time period. The policy is therefore making a positive impact on communities. By working with researchers, Mrs. Mosby has shown that she wants to approach these issues holistically, analyzing the data, and not making decisions in a vacuum,” Susan Sherman, Johns Hopkins University Professor

"The concept is to provide a behavioral health rather than a criminal just response. We have known for some time that this can be an effective way to address the underlying causes of this behavior. Treatment works," Edgar K. Wiggins, Executive Director of BCRI.

"In a year that has shown us the importance of equity, both as it relates to the coronavirus and the incidences of police violence, we are pleased to see that the state's attorney's office for Baltimore City under the leadership of State's Attorney Mosby has been responsive to the community's needs and to calls for equity," Rev. Kobi Little, Baltimore NAACP President.

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Zy Richardson