In light of the record-breaking violence Baltimore has seen over the past several months, the city has enlisted the help of the federal government to assist the police in restoring order.
For two months, the city will receive help from 10 additional agents, hailing from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Marshals Service. These new agents will join the joint task force B-FED, which Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake described as “an all-hands-on-deck movement addressing violence in our community.”
Baltimore has seen an alarming increase in homicides this year, with the current number at 192. Meanwhile, 2014 saw a total of 208 for the whole year. City officials are hoping that this new strategy will keep this number from climbing at this same rate.
“Our federal law enforcement partners bring tools to bear that we necessarily don’t enjoy, federal assets and federal techniques that will help us close more homicide cases,” said the city’s interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.
Although the city is no stranger to violence during a normal year, the recent spike in homicides attributed largely to the community’s response to the murder of Freddie Gray brings the problem to a whole new level.
“We need to lower the murder rate, lower the crime rate, increase the confidence level that Baltimore is a good, strong, safe city to live in, to work in, to worship in,” said Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D).
In an attempt to tackle these problems with as much strength as possible, city officials instituted a “war room” last month, which gave police, federal agents and prosecutors the opportunity to work as a unit.
Spokesmen from the groups supplying agents have all said that the idea is not for the people coming in to observe idly. Rather, they will be doing as much as possible to actively help the police in any way they can.
“We’re not riding along in cars,” said Brian Murphy, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service office in Baltimore. “We’re going to provide the assistance we can provide. We may look at cases with them. If there’s a lead involving financial crimes or financial activities, we’d be happy to run with that.” Murphy has sent one of his agents to the force.
According to Special Agent David Cheplak of the ATF, who himself assisted the Baltimore PD in controlled drug buys and surveillance, “The understanding is that an agent will be partnered up with a current homicide detective, given a caseload with the goal being to clear these homicides.”
The ATF provided 12 agents to the war room and will be lending two to B-FED, Cheplak said.
After allegations of corruption and the highly-publicized firing of former Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, officials are also hopeful that having outside perspectives will be a large help in of itself. “We’ve got to take a different look at things, whether it’s fresh eyes or just looking at it in a different way,” said Todd Edwards, spokesman for the DEA (who is sending two of their own agents.)
Davis emphasized that police and officials will not “tread water” but rather work actively to restore calm to the city and be an example for the rest of the nation.
“We’re going to lead the pack,” he said. “The nation is undergoing a surge in homicides, and it’s our expectation that before very long, people will look to Baltimore to see how we fought out of it.”
Top officials all seem to agree, though, that the police and federal government cannot achieve this without the continued support of the community. According to Maryland State Rep. Elijah Cummings (D), “The only people who are doing pretty good right now are the morticians” amid the sharp increase in homicides.
“I said it before and I’ll say it again,” he said. “The police need the community and the community needs the police.”
Rawlings-Blake, who has long been advocating for a unified community and police department, has not changed her stance: “If we are not working together, the community and the police together, none of us will see the safe city that we want to see.”
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby shared these sentiments; addressing the community, she said, “Community we need you to step forward; we cannot do this alone. Everyone has a stake in the safety and outcome of our communities.”