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April 28, 2010

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.

Required reading: the CityPaper reports on the federal indictment in this week's issue; a previous blog entry with interesting excerpts from the 164-page search warrant affidavit.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gangs
        

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.



Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.
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