Profile No. 18

Baltimore Police Violent Crimes Division and Youth Violence Strike Force -- Baltimore, MD

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Program to deter gun carrying in high crime hotspot areas.

Program Goal:
To target gang members and violent offenders under age 24.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Violent gang members.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Areas of Baltimore where violent gangs operate.

Evaluated by:
Internal data collection.

Contact Information:
Sergeant William Marcus and
Lieutenant Jon Foster
Baltimore City Police Department
Violent Crimes Division
601 East Fayette Street, Mezzanine
Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: 410­396­2246

Years of Operation:

In 1991, in response to unacceptably high levels of violence, the Baltimore City Police Department created a Violent Crime Task Force. The Task Force, now called the Violent Crimes Division, has several units: the Handgun Recovery Squad; the Operations Unit; the Shooting Squad; the Cold-Case Squad (which works closely with the Shooting Squad); and the newest addition to the group, the Youth Violence Strike Force (which now oversees the Intelligence Unit).

Handgun Recovery Squad

During the early 1990's, Baltimore police believed that most of the area's violent and criminal activity centered on the drug trade. Police therefore concentrated their efforts on buy-bust operations, search-and-seizure activities, and undercover drug buys. This approach was effective for a time and the violent crime rate decreased. However, in 1995, the number of shootings again began to climb, so the Handgun Recovery Squad was created as a special program of the Violent Crime Task Force. At first, the Squad spent most of its time simply seizing guns all over the city -- four to five handguns each night. This proved ineffective, however, since seizing large numbers of guns had no noticeable impact on crime. The Department therefore decided that the Squad would limit its activities to the highest crime areas: posts 326 and 333 in Baltimore's Eastern Police District (two of the city's hotspot areas). After targeting gangs in these two posts, there was a marked decrease in handgun-related violence.

Firearms seizures by the Handgun Recovery Squad again began to dwindle, for two primary reasons. First, criminals realized that guns were being targeted in Baltimore and stopped carrying weapons. Second, every tactical unit in the Baltimore Police Department began to target guns in their investigations, so more arrests were being made by nonsquad units. The Handgun Recovery Squad therefore changed its focus to undercover surveillance, working closely with ATF on Project LEAD, a national gun-tracing initiative to identify straw purchasers. The Handgun Recovery Squad also coordinated its efforts with the U.S. Attorney's Office DISARM program, the Baltimore County Gun Squad, and the State Attorney's FIVE program (the Firearms Investigation/Violence Division), which allows vertical prosecution of nonfatal shooting cases. These city and county agencies share intelligence and serve warrants together when one agency seeks a suspect in the other's jurisdiction.

During September and October 1998, the Handgun Recovery Squad seized almost 40 guns. Although squad members are "aggressive," they are trained to be respectful toward all members of the public, including arrestees. As a result, they have been able to maintain a positive relationship with community members and have not generated significant resident complaints.

Youth Violence Strike Force

In 1997, when the Baltimore City Police Department analyzed internal data on shootings, it found that more than 50 percent of victims and suspects were age 24 and younger. It also found that most violence was caused by violent drug "crews" that were using handguns to settle disputes. This led to the creation of the Youth Violence Task Force (now called the Strike Force), whose mission is to identify and target gang members and violent offenders and aggressively seek their apprehension and incarceration. Once the Youth Violence Strike Force has linked a particular gang to homicides, shootings, and other violent activities, the gang is targeted for investigation and, if possible, Federal prosecution. In the Cherry Hill section of the city, for example, police found that one gang was responsible for seven shootings, all of which involved youthful offenders. The Strike Force worked with the U.S. Attorney's Office in that case to identify defendants for prosecution in Federal court.

The Strike Force has strong partnerships with other criminal justice agencies, including the U.S. Attorney, ATF, FBI, school police, and State Department of Juvenile Justice. The Task Force also works closely with parole officers, probation officers, and judges, holding "Gang Call-In" meetings with youth who are on parole and probation. Police officers also accompany parole and probation staff during home visits.

Although the Violent Crimes Division and Youth Violence Strike Force are not formally linked with Baltimore's Comprehensive Communities Program (see profile 1), many of their enforcement activities are focused in the same hotspot neighborhoods identified by that program.

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