On the heels of one of the most violent years in city history, policing and crime are sure to be some of the biggest issues leading up to the April 26 Democratic primary. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon and Councilman Nick Mosby, two of the frontrunners, according to a November 2015 poll in The Sun, recently released their plans for deploying and reforming the Baltimore Police Department.
The two share very similar end goals for all the policy areas, but present different ways of getting there.
Dixon's plan says that making Baltimore safe for everyone is the mayor's "number one job" and that the "highest priority" would be targeting violent offenders. Mosby's plan does not highlight any one top priority, and in an email, the councilman said that his top priority would be "changing the way City Hall governs to a comprehensive model that connects [different] issues together."
The other candidates in the Democratic primary for mayor have not released any sort of policy statements recently like Dixon and Mosby have.
Mosby supports police body cameras, saying that he wants them on officers within 100 days of taking office. Currently, the Baltimore Police Department has said it will be awarding a contract for body cameras early this year following a pilot program. Detective Donny Moses, a police spokesman, said that it is "much too soon" to estimate a time when cameras will be distributed throughout the ranks, and that the department is just now looking into procuring the cameras.
Dixon doesn't mention body cameras specifically in her plan (though later, in an interview, she did say she supported them) but she does call for a culture of "openness and transparency" by retraining the way officers think. The plan says that police should be trained to behave "not as a force that is designed to control a population but one that is designed to provide a service to the community" and also sets a goal of performing a "job task analysis to determine the tools and resources our law enforcement personnel need" to work in the twenty-first century.
Mosby and Dixon's plans both include strategic community policing, but they differ in what, exactly, they call for—and in how detailed the proposals are. Dixon's plan calls for using "currently available and underused" data (without listing any specific offices, datasets, or agencies in the plan) to "strategically deploy foot patrols." Mosby's includes directing the Police Department to implement a community policing strategy that includes "walking the beat." Both plans say that they'll incentivize officers to live in Baltimore communities. Dixon does not specify what the "homeownership incentives" would be. Mosby's plans says that he would waive the property tax for officers living in communities designated as "developing."
Dixon said in a phone interview that officers could make use of "real-time data" through mobile phones and computers to help them with targeted enforcement. She mentioned a software that's popular in some counties in Maryland and "out west" that officers use, but was not ready to give the name of the software, citing strategic campaign reasons.
While both plans call for officers to pursue bachelor's degrees, Mosby's plan specifically encourages officers to study criminal justice and rewards tuition reimbursement for a five-year commitment to the department. Dixon doesn't mention any specific incentives, partner universities, or degree programs, but she does agree that ongoing training for officers is a good thing.
"It can only enhance their abilities to do better," Dixon said, noting that a degree would help an officer's personal growth and ability to pursue a leadership role within the department.
BPD currently offers a tuition reimbursement program, based on "academic performance, the availability of appropriate funds and eligibility requirements."
Both Dixon and Mosby call for strengthening civilian oversight of police. The current police civilian review board, founded in the '90s, has proven to be ineffective. A 2014 Baltimore Sun story found that the board's recommendations are often ignored by the police commissioner and former board members said police all too often excuse the actions of other officers. To address this, Mosby's plan is calling for a filling of vacant seats, adding elected positions, and "having trained civilian investigators conduct misconduct complaints." Dixon's plan calls for hiring a professional staff to help the board, and allowing them to take cases in forms other than formally filed complaints.
Both plans also recognize the importance of taking lead paint seriously as a public issue and the importance of mental health care for children. Dixon calls for investing "as far upstream as possible," because violence is a public health issue—her plan includes emphasizing a reduction in lead poisoning and home visits for pregnant women, but does not get much more specific than that.
Mosby's plan calls for listing lead paint as a "public nuisance" and creating a taskforce that would require landlords in Baltimore to register all the property they own in the state, pass lead paint inspections, and "enforce remediation" of properties that fail inspection. Both plans, then, seem to recognize the link between lead exposure and violent crime without ever saying so explicitly.
The candidates' respective tones show a big difference between the two plans. Mosby's plan is telling voters the issues that plague Baltimore are all interconnected and require a lot of thought. Dixon's message seems simpler: fixing crime and improving public safety will improve the city.
Mosby's plan is more thorough. Professorial. It makes it clear that while leadership and direction come from City Hall, the work of improving Baltimore will come from every neighborhood and every resident.
"The point here is that if you go to any challenged neighborhood in Baltimore, you will find more people who care about that neighborhood than those who want to destroy it," said Tiffany Cross, a campaign spokeswoman.
Dixon, who received a standing ovation when she was introduced at Freddie Gray's funeral in April, repeatedly refers to her ability to lead in her plan.
"I know what it means for a mayor to work with the police department to make a safer city where every citizen is respected and valued," the plan says. It doesn't shy away from Dixon's record, which, according to The Baltimore Sun, includes an 11 percent decline in violent crime and a drop from 282 homicides to 238.
Taken together, it seems a bit like Dixon is telling Baltimore that she'll wrangle the city into being safer, and Mosby is saying the whole city has to work together to improve things. Voters may feel like they're choosing between a crime hawk and a policy wonk.