AP NEWS

Baltimore to get boost from feds to fight violent crime

December 18, 2019 GMT
Detroit Police Chief James Craig,left, speaks as U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and FBI Director Christopher Wray listen during the announcement of a new national crime reduction initiative, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Corey Williams)
Detroit Police Chief James Craig,left, speaks as U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and FBI Director Christopher Wray listen during the announcement of a new national crime reduction initiative, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Corey Williams)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Mired in violent crime, Baltimore has been selected by the U.S. Justice Department to receive additional federal law enforcement resources as part of a seven-city initiative unveiled Monday.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in announcing the effort, characterized the Mid-Atlantic city as the “robbery capital of the United States” and said it had the second-highest murder rate in the country. The initiative dubbed Operation Relentless Pursuit will increase the overall number of federal agents in the city and add more officers to task forces.

“In a number of cities, it’s a stubborn problem,” Barr said referring to violent crime during a press conference in Detroit, which is among the selected cities. “It’s intolerable for some Americans to experience high levels of violence and others live in relative peace. So we go where the trouble is.”

The announcement comes as Baltimore is experiencing one of its most violent years on record, tallying 330 homicides so far. That’s up from 309 total in 2018.

The city has also seen a combined 1,311 armed and unarmed commercial robberies and carjackings. It wrapped up last year with 1,361 of those cases.

The seven cities, which also include Albuquerque, Cleveland, Kansas City, Memphis and Milwaukee, will share up to $71 million in grant funding that can be used to hire police officers and pay their benefits and salaries. U.S. Attorney in Maryland Robert Hur said the funds will allow the Baltimore Police Department to bring in new officers so that veterans of the force can be detailed to federal task forces.

“It really is about marrying up people and agencies with different strengths and synergies,” Hur said. “Federal agents ... know how to develop federal cases, but Baltimore police officers who have decades of experience on the streets, they know the city, they know the neighborhoods, they have sources.”

Baltimore has seen a worrying increase in violent crime since 2015, when the homicide rate spiked after civil unrest followed the death of a young black man, Freddie Gray, while in police custody. This is the fifth year in a row that the city is surpassing 300 homicides.

On Tuesday alone, eight people were shot, three of them fatally. One of the people killed was community leader Sean Davis, whom City Council President Brandon Scott said had recently hosted a toy drive for children who had lost parents to gun violence.

“This latest cowardly acts come as our city was already experiencing a 9% increase in homicides and a 15% increase in non-fatal shootings over last year,” Scott said in a statement. The shootings “remind us that the horrific violence devastating our communities can affect us all.”

The new initiative is the latest federally funded effort announced this year meant to boost law enforcement’s efforts to stymie gang-related activity and violent crime as a whole. In September, the Justice Department unveiled a task force focused on gun- and drug-related crime in the city. Task force members, including FBI, DEA and ATF agents, are to work from a shared location, allowing for a more coordinated workflow.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Maryland has already credited the task force for the indictments of more than 30 people on drug and gun counts. Many of those defendants are accused of selling heroin, crack, fentanyl and cocaine to individuals and in bulk to drug traffickers.

Meanwhile, members of the state’s congressional delegation on Monday announced a $4.6 million package of grants for public safety initiatives for the region. Part of the money Baltimore will receive is meant to help law enforcement identify and track guns, support children who are crime victims of the opioid crisis and combat elder abuse.