City task force meeting to examine Safe Streets
I was due to appear on WYPR today to discuss the Safe Streets program, which had $1 million in grant funding suspended after an unrelated-but-related program was alleged to be a front for a gang member's criminal activity. But producers told me that the appearance had to be postponed because Safe Street supervisor Gardnel Carter is meeting today with a task force of city officials to review its operations.
A refresher: in 2007, officials sought to bring a successful violence intervention program called Safe Streets to Baltimore by hiring ex-cons and reformed gang members to mediate disputes using their street credibility and a healthy dose of anonymity. Officials targeted several areas in the city to implement the program, each to be overseen by a different organization. Communities Organized to Improve Life was selected to oversee a West Baltimore site, and outreach workers were hired under a strict process that included the health and police departments. A year later, COIL's funding was cut off due to non-compliance, but they continued to perform gang outreach work. Earlier this month, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration alleged in court papers that Todd Duncan, a COIL outreach worker, was a Black Guerrilla Family gang leader who used his COIL work to make his interaction with gang members and drug dealers appear legitimate. Within those court papers, there was a single allegation that a current city Safe Streets site in East Baltimore was also tied to the BGF. No one from that site was charged, and they vehemently deny the allegation.
After the indictment, Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake suspended $1 million in Department of Justice grant funding for Safe Streets pending a thorough review, causing the program to shut its doors and cease formal operations.
According to the mayor's spokesman, the task force members conducting the review are: Deputy Mayor Chris Thomaskutty, director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice Sheryl Goldstein, acting health commissioner Olivia Farrow, Dr. Daniel Webster, of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Lt. Col. Rick Hite, who last year retired from the Baltimore Police Department.