WMAR-2 News Kendall Green got to sit down with Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott on December 8, 2021, the day that marks one year since he was sworn in as Mayor. Below is a transcript of the interview.
You're running the city that you were born in? What's been keeping you up at night?
"I think that for me, though, we know right now we are in the midst of a really ongoing public health emergencies, right?
Gun violence that has been plaguing Baltimore for longer than I've been alive. Overdose and addiction epidemic that's been plaguing Baltimore longer and COVID. And when you think about those three together, you have to think about, people are losing their lives, right? We, every year, we lose over 1000 people to overdose, right? Even more than gun violence and COVID.
This year, we've lost over 450 people to COVID. And 317, folks to homicide in Baltimore, that's what keeps me up at night. Right, those and that's why that's what my focus is understanding that there is a dual track to attack that right. This is why we outlined our comprehensive violence reduction strategy over the summer, because knowing an issue that has been plaguing the city for this long, isn't was never going to be settled at night. And there were things that have to be done. And both instances and when you think about the things that we're undertaking now, with this $50 million accelerating into the Mayor's Office of neighborhood safety engagement, that will now allow us to do the very things that need to be done.
First and foremost, fully going through a group violence reduction strategy. We will focus intensely on the folks who are the most at risk to be the victim of perpetrators of violence through a law enforcement lens, but also through housing, through jobs through other resources that those folks need, right? When you think about the approach that we're going to be taking to deal with the trauma in neighborhoods, with shootings that happen, right, when you think about us now being able to grow our community based violence interruption programs from 10 to 30.
Those are the kinds of things that are going to help us and building on the work. That is why I am a pissed off at the amount of violence that we've had, especially with the homicides this year, in the city. I understand the growing and the changing dynamic behind that. But I also can see, even with that number, the homicide number, some of the progress. That makes me want more. The fact that non fatal shootings are down.
The fact that burglaries are down like 17%. The fact that the robbery category, that includes street robberies and car jackings and home invasions are down 12% over last year, the fact that we are clearing a 6% higher clearance rate for both homicides and non fatal shooting, meaning that our police detectives are bringing closure to families at a higher clip who have been victims of this violence. That gives me hope and shows the progress, while I also understand that we're still losing far too many people, and I think is key for us to really spend some time talking about why that is.
I want folks to understand that this is no longer just a drugs and gangs and over money. And this is no longer just about young people. Right? When you look at our victims this year, a lot of them above the age of 30. Right and we have to understand that and folks are dying on the streets of Baltimore simply because they're dating somebody or they get into a minor dispute with someone. That talks about how we need to deal with people's mental state and the entirety of our culture in the city."
And that's not something you do in a year. No, it's something you do in two or three years. So I mean, what do you say to people who have an expectation that this is supposed to be instant?
"I think that we've been very clear that it's not about instant or not instant, it's about working on the things that we can do immediately, which is why we did the things like refocus the police department, on their zones, where they should be focused. This is why we did a first of it's kind partnership with every town for gun safety. To build a gun trafficking portal that now allows our firearms intelligence unit to go after people who are bringing in those guns into Baltimore, and which 60% of them come from outside the state, which is why in an effort to end all the finger pointing in an effort to focus solely on collaboratively, bringing public safety to Baltimore, is why I restarted the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, to bring local state and federal partners immediately together public safety agencies to focus on what we all can do to bring safety in Baltimore.
Those are the immediate things. But when you talk to people in Baltimore, who really know what's happening on the street, they know this, so much of it is not going to be there. They know there are things that we can do immediately, and why we have to hold more people accountable, why we have to go after the folks who are committing the violent crime and why we have to go after guns. But they also know that so much of this is about the historic disinvestment that has happened in our neighborhoods, and why we haven't been investing in young people.
That's also something that we've been doing even in the first year, right. When you think about that, we open new rec centers like the K Hill fitness and wellness and reopen Bocheck that was close with 20 years reopen to Towanda that was close with many years, bringing the amount of rec centers opening in Baltimore City up to 52. When it was just 40, just a few years ago, that is significant progress. When you think about this unprecedented investment that we're making into the economic potential of our of our residents right through this workforce development through train up through the creation now of a year round up works programs so that we can provide Baltimore has the opportunity to provide for their families in a better way. Those are historic things that we're doing in immediate that will have short term and long term benefits."
What is one, that you're gonna hang your hat on? The one that you say, this is the one that I'm most proud of? As far as within your first year of becoming mayor?
"Well, I think I think I'll have to give you two, right? Because of the time that we're living in, you can't talk about anything in the world today and not talk about COVID. Right? The fact that Baltimore came together really to fight COVID, right? Yes, I made everyone mad in my first full day of office by shutting the city down.
But what we did together as a city, allowed us now to have over 360,000 people in a city with at least one dose of vaccine allowed us to believe in the science, believe in data work and make those tough decisions together so that we can continue to have one of the lowest positivity rates throughout this pandemic in the state.
And for us now, despite all the criticism that the city has gotten to be recognized nationally as a leader in fighting COVID-19. So I have to say that was that is one. The second one is the investments into young people, the fact that we have now more rec centers than we've had opening in over a decade in the city of Baltimore, and we're planning an even deeper investment in Rec and Parks that we're going to share with you guys in the near future. The fact that this year, we open six new school buildings or record for the city. Those are things that we all can be proud of the city."
How about opportunities for growth? Stuff that you you look in retrospect within your first year?
"As you know, I'm an athlete, and I'm a perfectionist, right? If I'm out on the football field, and I catch 100 passes, and I dropped the 101st, the 101st is going to be the thing that I'm thinking about all the time. Right?
I think that there are things that we could do better when he's talking about dealing with violent crime. And that's the things that we're doing now. This is why I made those decisions to make those changes to have that deeper focus to go down the road that we're going so that we can no longer be making those mistakes, getting more services back open and yes, we know that COVID has been impacting that, but and we were able to restart recycling and restart bulk trash. But I would have liked to do that a lot, a lot faster than we were able to do that right?
To not have, when we implemented something, that was and this is a big one, something that was critical for the city, right? The fact that when I came into office, they were still doing time sheets by hand. And we were finally switching it over to the workday system to be allowed that to be digital. But the mistakes in the end that people not getting paid in the systems that the fail safe that were not there, that is something that still angers me to this day.
But when I think about how we could have done better, the number one thing I think about is the people that we lost, right? The fact that my friend Dante Barksdale is no longer here, and what, if anything we all could have done to have that not happen?"
I'll just jump a little ahead of that. But what is your message to some of the more than 300 families who are grieving folks that become victims of gun violence? What would you say to them? Going through your next three years? What can they expect differently, or what would be your word to them?
"My first thing is that my heart is still with them. And that they know that, you know, I'll always be here for them. Even when I'm no longer sitting in this chair, I'm going to be a son of Baltimore, and I'm never going to leave this community right and that these personally impact me. Because even though I didn't do it, I feel personally responsible.
Each and every time that happens to someone what we're going to do and work together to do is make sure that as we move forward as a city, that we are a city that are building better people so that we have less and less and less of that happening. And we are going to continue to aggressively go after people who commit acts of violence and hold them accountable, we're gonna do both, we're gonna uplift people.
But for those who feel like they can just go out and shoot somebody because there's a dispute. And I want to be very clear to those who are continuing to do that, especially those who are doing that, over these interpersonal things over a woman over a man, you don't own him, you don't own her that person's free to be able to do whatever they want with their body.
When you have a small minor dispute with someone you should not you should not feel like it's okay to take that person's life because you have a disagreement, or that you are so weak in your mind that you feel like you've been valued. Your only way to show your value or your worth is to take another person's like, we have to be better than that as a community for those families that have lost people for the people who are still here, suffering from that trauma. And that's a message to all of us in Baltimore expressly those who knowingly hang out with their friends, their homeboys who they know has shot somebody over a woman or they know has shot somebody, or what petty dispute at a party or something like that. You got to be better, because that person, if they do that to someone else, they'll do the same thing to you."
Now, you said you take personal responsibility on a personal level, but it's not the city that can do it on their own. That takes the governor it takes the state legislature, what do you want to see coming out in 2022? For the state legislature that can benefit Baltimore?
"Well, it's continued partnership, right we've had we have a great partnership with our delegation from Baltimore City who have been great partners with us thinking about things that we were able to do. For example, the reason why we're going to be able to put on the ballot for our police departments become a local agency is because of the partnership with them.
When you think about investments that were going to be historic, like the Transit Safety and Investment Act, thanks to Senator McCray and Delegate Lierman, when you think about all the funds and things that are coming in for Rec and Parks, in our schools, led by Maggie McIntosh, led by Senate President Ferguson, all of those things are great partnerships, that we look forward to continuing with them on to make sure and we know that they're at the table with us to make sure that we can also figure out ways to creatively hold people accountable, especially dealing with things like ghost guns in our city, especially dealing with things like people who are gun trafficking in our city and making sure their systems are communicating from the state and local level."
What have been some successes with a partnership with Governor Hogan? What have been some of the challenges talk to me about that?
"Well, I guess the biggest success is that listen, the Governor decided a few years ago to get do away with the criminal justice Coordinating Council. And even though he and I don't always agree at the time, I even knew I thought we should keep it going. I agree with his frustration that it was not producing results and that it was, it was a dog and pony show. And after our meeting, he agreed to send the state representatives back and allow me to really hit the Criminal Justice Coordinator Counsel.
When folks say, 'well, this violent repeat offender should have been in jail and they were released, and it was the police's fault. Oh, it's the State's Attorneys, or was the judges'. But the reality is, is that no one really knew what was happening because there was no data system, there was no sharing, there was none of that information. It was all hearsay. And what we're doing now, and what the governor's employees who were there with our federal partners and other partners are saying, is that this is the first time that they've been actually asked what we should work on the experts in agencies. Not the people like me, not the people like the Governor, what needs to happen. How we're going to work together to make sure that these systems are talking. That we're handling issues and building processes that make Baltimore safer now, and in the future.
That's a big deal for us in the city of Baltimore. And of course, you know, some of the frustration has just been what I would call the political fallout of that."
Part of the human experience evolving, you know, when you first ran with BPD, you had a stance on police and funding and overtime. You want to reduce the funding for Baltimore Police Department. Being in the mayor's chair, seeing the issues, you know, in debt that way, how has that stance changed?
"Well, the stance, for me it hasn't really changed at all right? For me, it's about I think folks get into the hashtags is what I always tell folks, right. But when you get away from all that noise and understand this, for example, we you know that we are leading a very unique 911 diversion, a call pilot program right now, where we're actually diverting, calls away. Behavioral health calls away from police to train professionals, right.
That is what, you know, many folks will say like, 'oh, well, you're defunding the police'. No, you're actually doing what should have been done in the first place, because our police officers aren't trained behavioral health specialist. Why on Earth are we requiring them to go out to these calls? Right? So yes, we should cut overtime, as we build that out, think about how all the dollars millions of dollars that we've been allocating for police to do behavioral health work can actually go to behavioral health experts, right? That is about being smart with your dollar.
That is about allowing them to focus on what they should be focused on. And for us, it's also in our consent decree that we must do that. And it's about evolving the way the city government thinks is about efficient housing. For example, when we cut, you know, the police department had a $15 million on allocated fund, right, in sitting in this budget. No functioning business allows anybody within their business to just have that amount of money sitting in an allocate, it's about being smart.
And we know, especially, this is the other key, we are going to have to do something that we should have done a long time ago in Baltimore. That is invest more money into our school system. Yes, the state is finally going to be doing their their full share for not just Baltimore, but all of Maryland public schools. But that requires more from us to and we have to be responsible with that dollar. And we have to make sure that those investments in the pennies that we save and all these things are going towards our children."
With the budget that you've set for BPD are you pleased with how it's being said how it's being intended? Are you pleased with the community outreach that you've talked about mental health and everything? Where do you stand on that?
"Yeah, well, the pilot is going very well. Right. And we know that the other things are improving, but there's always room for improvement. And we're looking to grow, grow the amount of calls that we are diverting away from the police so that they can focus on what what they should be focused on because you are not right if we just thought outside of our head like if I asked you, what do you think our police officers spend the most of the time doing? You would think in Baltimore that they spent it dealing with, you know, actual crime, right? Violence, robberies, burglaries, shooting, talking to people about those issues.
The truth is they don't, because we have now grown into a culture where if we don't like something you call 911. And the police come even when they're not the appropriate one, we're going to get away from that so that our police officers have the time to actually go out and proactively patrol to build relationships to focus in on the neighborhoods build those relationships with businesses go after the people that they know they should be looking for. Instead of dealing with every little issue that they aren't even the ones that should be responding to."
Alright, so let's let's dive into closed homicide cases. How do you feel about that progress?
"That's a that's significant progress. And I think when I first had to think homicide detectives weren't apprehension task force who have been going out and helping to close these cases in the community. The reality is that our detectives are great, they do great work, but they rely on information from our residents, and that shows that relationship is improving.
To have a 6% increase in closing cases is a big deal. And it's the same number for non-fatal shootings in our district detective, shooting detectives, who have been handling that. That means that more families are getting closures, that means that more killers are off the streets of Baltimore. And I think that's something that we have to talk about more because that means more people are being held accountable. Right, that no longer are you just gonna just say like, oh, you can shoot somebody and just live on with your life. And when you think about also, the amount of outstanding warrants we have for people on that we know these folks are and they are going to be brought in as well."
So we're going to talk about your partnership with the State's Attorney's Office. 97% conviction rate overall 86% conviction rate with homicide 96% of felony conviction rate? When you hear those numbers coming from your State's Attorney's Office what does that tell you about fighting crime? What does it tell you about your success in that?
"Well, listen, for us the success that we have with our homicide detectives, that is the deep part. Anytime we're trying to get charges on someone for doing a shooting, for doing a homicide during a robbery, all of those things had to be done in partnership with the State's Attorney's Office. And that means we have to be presenting things that they know are true, and they think that they can prove in court so that relationship has to be there.
And we look forward to strengthening that relationship even further. We look forward to having a deep relationship with the State Attorney's Office as we have to after we have to with the police commissioner myself in the State's Attorney's Office to fully implement the route violence reduction strategies about building on the successes and being able to have open and honest dialogue with each other."
We talked to neighborhood association presidents who believe prosecuting minor crimes leads to eliminating major crimes. The policy with State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, have you seen that as a challenge? Have you seen that as an asset to your efforts to fight crime?
"I don't see it as a challenge. And I understand for us, the reality is, is that our police department is still out there doing drug arrest, right? We're going after folks who are distributing narcotics, you guys have reported on multiple times this year, the big investigations that we've done with either the local police attorney or the federal attorney's office, we're bringing down these big drug organizations, we're gonna continue to do that.
I grew up in Baltimore in the 90s, in the early 2000s. I remember how it was for me to be outside and seeing the police just pull up people who were addicted to drugs. And they will tell a lot of officers will tell you that it makes the city safer. It's about focusing in on who and being able to allow them the opportunity to deal with those nuisance things at the same time. It's not an either or."
Let's let's talk about COVID. You said you had some big successes with COVID. Just share share with us about the idea about $1,000 for vaccine compliance?
"Well, listen, we're already now at over 70% of our employees having having been vaccinated in Baltimore. We now think this $1,000 incentive for Baltimore City employees, so people that work for city government that have their check signed by me, as the Mayor of Baltimore, giving $1000. At one time $1,000, to get that vaccine, we think that will encourage a large amount of our remaining folks to do that. Because we know what's the best thing for them to remain healthy as they continue to be out every day on the front lines."
City Hall is still closed. When do you expect an open back City Hall? And do you anticipate remote learning being a permanent thing with city government beyond the pandemic?
"I think for us, what we're doing now, is like we've made a mini restore for some in person services. And now we're doing the tough work of doing things like installing the technology necessary for us to have hybrid meetings, so that we're working towards the place where we can reopen City Hall.
I think, again, it's important to note that while we all want people able to come in person to meetings, whether it's a council meeting or board of estimates, we also have to recognize that one of the bright spots from the pandemic that forced us to do these things in a virtual setting is that so many average Baltimoreans have access to the government. That didn't happen before. People who can't come down to City Hall at 9 o'clock in the morning for a meeting, people who can't take off work and be here at 5 o'clock for a council hearing. Those folks deserve to still be able to be involved and part of their government. And we're working now to put the infrastructures that allow them to stay in connection with the government and the folks that are able to come in person."
How are you attracting businesses? What has been your way to attract businesses to Baltimore, despite, homicides in the headlines. What is your selling point for Baltimore, and these businesses?
"Well, that Baltimore is going to be the greatest comeback story in the history of American cities. Showcasing all the positive things that we continue to happen, have happened in Baltimore each and every day, right, showcasing how we're now operating in a different way. When you think about the issues that we're talking about, this is a nationwide thing.
Cities around the country are seeing violence go up and to be honest, and quite more significant percentages and numbers than we are even here in Baltimore, right? Being last year, one of the exceptions in reducing violent crime. And you can see that with the things that we have coming here, we've attracted the CIAA, the third largest basketball college basketball tournament in the country is going to be in Baltimore.
For the next three years, we were able to do things like having Destination International, the folks that go and sell every city around the country, had been our first conference that we had, that we brought back here. We're actively going after the FIFA World Cup. We've been able to showcase the greatness of Baltimore on prime-time NFL games multiple times this year.
When you see that when people see the things that we're doing, how we're investing in our downtown and uptown at the same time, folks. Baltimore's a place that's open for business and open for business in the equitable way."
December 8, 2022, what are we going to be talking about? What are we discussing?
"We're gonna be talking about where we are my action plan, the progress that we've made on building public safety, the progress that we've made of being responsible with city dollars. The progress that we've made on building healthy and clean, and communities to progress.
The progress that we've made on equitable Neighborhood Development, that's what we're gonna be talking about. Holding us accountable for the things that we're laying out in this action plan because I believe in governance, not just for return, but for how Baltimore should be building yourself towards for the future. How we can do that in tandem with our residents and that they can see in real time, so they don't have to wait for me.
They can simply go on to mirror that www.Baltimorecity.gov/tracker and see it for themselves. And we'll be talking about the successes that we've had and the things that I'm going to push us to be better."
You want to say anything to the folks at Mervo?
"Always! Want to again congratulate the Mervo Mustangs won their first ever state championship, especially after the year they had. They brought it home for their brother, that we lost during the school year, just to uplift them again and they know that I love them dearly.
I'm deeply proud of them. But to also say that while have won State Championship, when you can have to, to uplift Dunbar for bringing home their 11th State Championship. Much love and respect to both Coach Nixon from Mervo and Coach Smith from Dunbar for showcasing the best of what Baltimore's young men can be when people actually take the time invest in anything."