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In State of the City address, Scott calls for “new era” of public safety

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Mayor Brandon Scott addresses city council members and agency leaders in the City Council chambers. Behind him sits City Council President Nick Mosby. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott outlined his vision for improving public safety in his second annual State of the City address Tuesday.

It was the first State of the City address that a mayor delivered from City Hall since 2019, when former Mayor Catherine Pugh was still in office.

Last year, Scott spoke before a small audience of staffers.

This time, he spoke in the City Council Chambers, which was packed with masked council members and agency heads, including State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

Scott said the city is on the “cusp of a long overdue renaissance.”

“When I came into office, city government was broken and rotten to the core, from years of dysfunction, turmoil and misplaced focus,” he said. “We have to start from scratch and build new systems from the foundation up.”

The mayor opened his address with a moment of silence for first responders and public safety workers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

Scott said the city continues to be plagued by gun violence as it recovers from COVID-19, which he said is “not over.” While thanking the Baltimore Police Department for making the city a “safer place,” he also called for a “reimagining” of city policing.

“If we continue with the status quo, we will continue to get status quo results,” he said.

Among the new initiatives Scott announced was a “smart policing program,” under which officers would spend less time addressing non-emergencies so they can address violence. Scott said he’d unveil more about the program in the coming weeks.

The mayor has drawn criticism from progressive activists who’d hoped he’d redirect funds from the police toward resources like housing and education.

District 8 Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, who has supported redirecting funds, said he thinks that critique is “reasonable.”

But he said that he understands why Scott is taking a more “balanced approach,” so long as the mayor isn’t funding the police at the expense of other programs.

“At the end of the day, one of the things I do hear from my constituents is that they want more police presence, they want more visibility, and they want them to be able to solve crimes,” Burnett said. “Our clearance rate is too low. So we aren't solving crimes. We aren’t doing effective work.”

And Burnett said Scott went beyond policing in his address as a crime reduction strategy.

“To hear a mayor, for the first time, really lift up that holistic lens, that lens of equity and reinvestment in communities that have been disinvested for a very long time, was encouraging and exciting to hear,” he said.

Part of his vision, Scott said, to “truly build public safety,” is creating more opportunities for young people. He announced plans to invest more than $65 million in the city school system, and touted a $120 million investment in Baltimore City Recreation and Parks.

“We will put more effort into their promise than their struggles, more in their support than their shackles and more in their dreams than their downfalls,” Scott said.

He also highlighted his efforts to tackle housing inequity, including a $100 million allocation of ARPA funds, and a tax sale exemption program the city launched to protect owner occupied properties.

Scott also announced that West Baltimore businessman David Bramble has struck a deal to acquire Harborplace, once the center of Baltimore’s waterfront redevelopment and now a struggling retail space in receivership.

As he went over these initiatives, the mayor repeatedly made a call to action: that a better Baltimore requires collaboration.

“The responsibility to prevent violence falls on all of us. Not one person, not one agency,” Scott said.

City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton agreed that everyone has a part to play. She said that the mayor laid out a “good beginning,” in what she said might be one of the longest addresses she’s seen since joining the council. Scott spoke for nearly an hour.

“Now it's really time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” she said.

The City Council will hold its next meeting at City Hall on April 25th.