Safe Streets saved in 11th hour, yet again

Program funded through FY 2018
Posted at 4:20 PM, Jun 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-08 18:16:31-04

In the budget showdown between the mayor and the city council, some programs served as the line in the sand and one of them was Safe Streets, a Baltimore City Health Department initiative using former offenders to mediate conflicts in certain neighborhoods.

The deal cut redirects about $1.5 million to fund the five Safe Streets locations.

The program will see another year in part because some city council members demanded it.

"We're hoping that after the deal we got last night which I really think solidifies a strong working partnership we have with Mayor Pugh, that we can work together in those out years and basically come together. This is a has to be funded," said City Councilman Eric Costello.

But it seems every year, Safe Streets faces the same monetary peril.

 Funding for this current year's operations was also in jeopardy until the last minute in 2016.

It was eventually saved and so far this year, city-wide, the health department says Safe Streets conducted 876 mediations; 80 percent of which they feel would have otherwise ended in gun violence.

It is a success leading city council members to question why safe streets funding isn't permanent.

"Baltimore has over 150 homicides at this point and we are talking about a program that reduces violence and we are talking about if we are going to keep that program?” asked Councilman Brandon Scott, “I don't even understand how it was even allowed to be cut from the budget in the first place."

Scott wants to end the guessing game from year to year, he feels not only should Safe Streets be permanently funded, but expanded.

"We want to see more sites. We want to have a Safe Streets site, at least one in every police district in the city of Baltimore, that will be nine so that means we have to gain four more. That is what we should be talking about here. We shouldn’t be talking about whether or not we should continue a program that we know works," Scott said.

To that end, Scott and others vow to find a permanent solution by next year to end the fiscal lurching surrounding a program lauded by community members and academics.

While Mayor Catherine Pugh was out of town today, her office said she is open to a solution, Wednesday telling reporters if Safe Streets is a priority, then all voices need to come to the table to figure out how.

"You can’t just apply for grants and get a program up and going and not figure out what is the goal long range. How are you gonna fund it, where is the money gonna come from? That just means some priorities have to be given up and something else has to be funded," Pugh said.

The mayor said the budget process will be different next year to allow for more communication of priorities.

She hopes the private sector and philanthropists will also contribute to Safe Streets funding but the program might also be a permanent budget line in the health department's budget.

Either way, council members vow the program will not be left unfunded next year.