Baltimore Tries ‘Violence Reduction Zones’

The idea is to put more police officers and ramped-up city services in the most crime-ridden areas. If it works, will crime just move elsewhere?

In Baltimore’s most crime-ridden zones, officials are conducting an experiment in government. They started by targeting four small, deeply troubled areas to be flooded with more police patrols and city services. They called them “Transformation Zones,” at first, then rebranded them as “Violence Reduction Zones.” They’ve since added three more zones, bringing the total to seven, reports the Baltimore Sun. Each zone gets several dedicated police officers, called Neighborhood Coordination Officers, and an extra focus across city government for ramped-up services. Mayor Catherine Pugh has put $1.6 million in the city’s budget for two “rapid response” crews from the Department of Public Works to clean up these areas quickly, three more housing inspectors to enforce code violations such as peeling lead paint and extend hours at local recreation centers.

The idea is that if it can be rightly said that these areas were for far too long over-policed and under-served — and if this punitive style of government did not produce lasting crime declines — then officials should try the opposite: The zones should be drowning in services, from job training to street cleaning. If the approach can improve the most neglected parts of Baltimore, the theory goes, officials should be able to create a domino effect that will spread the transformation outward to neighboring areas, and eventually the city as a whole. “If you can drive crime down in the most violent areas,” Pugh says, “you can drive down crime all over the city.” There’s a concern: As police and politicians increase patrols and offer more needle exchanges and rec center programs, they acknowledge, some of the crime they’re suppressing is simply moving to other parts of the city.