Violent crime "unexpectedly" surges in Baltimore

Who could possibly have predicted this? In the wake of the Freddie Gray incident and the tumultuous conflicts between the police, city hall and the State’s Attorney, Baltimore has seen a rise in violent crime heading for levels not seen in decades. But it’s not just protesters mixed with rioters taking part in some sort of overly exuberant social justice movement… it looks like regular old criminals are seizing the day and making hay while the sun shines.

Crime is rising in Baltimore, and some law enforcement experts suspect an anti-cop climate stemming from the racially charged case of Freddie Gray is at least partly responsible.

Homicides in 2015 so far stand at 100, up from 71 for the same period last year, and on pace to be the Charm City’s deadliest year since 2007. Nonfatal shootings are up 70 percent this year, following a particularly violent week that saw 19 people shot on Tuesday and Wednesday alone.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Thursday. “It is disheartening, but I am still resolved to continue to reduce violent crime in our city.”

To a certain extent, one can almost … almost … sympathize with Maryor Rawlings-Blake and the rather leaky boat she finds herself in now. She’s dealing with a still barely contained powder keg in the Western district of her city and there is an obvious temptation to try to toss out some red meat to appease the masses. But between her handling of the case and the prosecutorial tactics lined up by Marilyn Mosby, she seems to be finding that veering too far in that direction can quickly produce diminishing returns. The cops are unhappy with the appearance of being thrown under the bus, similar to the fashion in which Big Apple police expressed their displeasure with Mayor Bill de Blasio after the Eric Garner affair. When the cops feel that the city government doesn’t have their backs, they become more cautious. And when law enforcement gives even a hint of being tentative, criminals will capitalize on the opening.

While crime is rising in Baltimore, the numbers of arrests have been dropping with numbers dipping 22 percent in the first three months of 2015 and even more sharply after Gray’s death on April 19 touched off rioting.

“The police down there [Baltimore] are definitely cautious,” NYPD Sgt. Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association in New York, told “I’m sure many of them think, ‘If I go and get involved what is the consequence?’”

Mullins said politicians who second-guess police are to blame, not cops. During initial rioting following Gray’s death, police officials told Fox News Rawlings-Blake had ordered them not to make arrests, even as they were pelted with rocks by angry crowds.

Once the word gets out on the streets that you can pelt the police with rocks and the Mayor will tell them to fall back and not arrest you, all bets are essentially off. This is an invitation to rip open the thin veneer of civilization and allow lawlessness to burst through. It appears that the leadership in Baltimore is learning a hard lesson in a rather short period of time. It is still possible that there has been some level of wrongdoing – either through incompetence or malfeasance – on the part of one or more police officers in the Freddy Gray case. And it’s important for the residents to know that police, like any other citizen, will be held accountable when they go astray. But by the same token, the government has to be able to send a clear message that law enforcement in general is a force for good and that the officers on the streets have the full backing of the executive branch. Even if some individual cops are found to be culpable to some degree, people need to know that the rule of law is still the order of the day and mayhem will not be tolerated.

Thus far, the mayor’s office has failed to establish that balance. And if these crime numbers turn out to be a trend rather than a blip, Mayor Rawlings-Blake will be paying the price for that lack of vision.