By David Muhammad
The writer is executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. NICJR is working with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and the city of Baltimore on violence reduction initiatives.
There is legitimate concern about the amount of violence in Baltimore and other parts of Maryland. There is also significant misinformation about that violence. Violent crime increased after the onset of the COVID pandemic across the country, especially in Baltimore. And while the actual increase was bad enough, the fear of violence was exasperated by constant coverage in the traditional press and social media.
This is why as gun violence has fallen in Baltimore and throughout Maryland in the past year, many residents report that it does not feel like violence is down. Similarly, because youth violence gets even more attention, many people assume youth are the leading contributors to gun violence. But that is a myth.
According to Baltimore Police Department data, as of September 8, homicides in Baltimore are down 21.5% from the same time last year, and 2022 had a slight drop in homicides from the previous year. So despite the understandable fear and outrage over gun violence in Baltimore, shootings are down sharply. And not only are shootings down overall, but youth are a small portion of the shootings.
A new study released last week by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services shows that statewide, “most categories of youth crime – including violent crime – are below pre-pandemic levels and have generally been declining for more than a decade.” The report also found that “the proportion of crime that is committed by youth is much smaller in comparison to crime committed by adults”.
The study points out that the share of violent crime committed by juveniles is low and decreasing in Maryland. “According to 2021 data from the Maryland State Police, 92.6 percent of homicide arrests and 92.9 percent of all arrests in Maryland are of adults, while 7.4 percent of homicide arrests and 7.1 percent of overall arrests are of juveniles.”
Even in 2021, a year of high rates of gun violence throughout the state, juveniles accounted for just 1 in 14 arrets in Maryland. A detailed study of shootings and homicides in Baltimore conducted as a part of the city’s successful Group Violence Reduction Strategy, found that in the Western District, historically one of the city’s most violent areas, the average age of homicide victims and suspects was 32. So far in 2023, adults comprise the vast majority, 83%, of those arrested for homicides in Baltimore.
In the past year and more, the state of Maryland, the city of Baltimore, and Prince George’s County have all invested in violence reduction efforts, in both enforcement and community intervention strategies. These efforts have paid off.
The DJS report also highlights its efforts to combat violence among youth, including Governor Wes Moore’s “Safe Summer” initiative, which provided $5 million to 12 Maryland counties, focusing on counties with high rates of gun violence. And a new “Thrive Academy” which identifies youth at particularly high risk of being involved in gun violence in Baltimore City and County and provides intensive interventions and wraparound services to those youth and families.
Much more progress is needed. Too much violence continues to plague neighborhoods in Maryland. But the progress that has been made should be acknowledged and the truth about youth involvement in violence should be known.