The FBI raided the Belair-Edison site of the Baltimore anti-violence program Safe Streets Thursday morning and visited the homes of two members of its staff.
The purpose and scope of the investigation was not clear. FBI spokeswoman Shelley Orman said only that the FBI was “conducting court-authorized activity” at the Safe Streets location, in the 3400 block of Belair Road.
LifeBridge Health’s Center for Hope, an arm of the health system aimed at addressing violence as a public health issue, manages the Northeast Baltimore site, and confirmed a search warrant was served. They said two staff members indicated federal agents had visited their homes as well.
“We are treating this incident seriously and are complying with requests from authorities,” LifeBridge said in a statement.
The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement said they didn’t have information but added: “Mayor Scott, MONSE, and our partners at LifeBridge Health have repeatedly made clear that any staff found guilty of wrongdoing or who do not live up to the values of our programs will be held accountable accordingly,” the office said in a statement.
Baltimore’s flagship gun violence intervention program, Safe Streets operates across 10 sites in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods, covering a footprint of fewer than 3 square miles in the city.
Staffers are unarmed and do often dangerous work to mediate, or “interrupt,” conflicts before they turn violent.
Though the program’s effectiveness at reducing violent crime has varied over the years across the sites, recent research has suggested encouraging impacts. A Johns Hopkins study released in March found that several Safe Streets outposts significantly reduced nearby shootings, resulting in fewer homicides at a “relatively modest” cost to the city.
Results from the Belair-Edison site, however, were mixed. A 2022 profile of the site by NPR noted that at over one stretch in 2021 and 2022, the area covered by the outpost went more than a year without a homicide, while the Johns Hopkins study, which Professor Daniel Webster said measured wider boundary lines for the site, found an increase in homicides but a decrease in nonfatal shootings. Webster noted available data for the site was limited.
While Safe Streets was founded in 2007, the Belair-Edison chapter was part of a wave of outposts instituted more recently, at the direction of former Mayor Catherine Pugh. The site has operated since 2020.
FBI agents were not present at the site along Belair Road when a Baltimore Banner reporter arrived late Thursday morning. A sign on the front door indicated that staffers were working off site. One woman exited the building, locked the door behind her and left, declining to comment.
Safe Streets is funded with a mix of city and state dollars and is a fixture in Mayor Brandon Scott’s plan to foster nonpolicing approaches to violent crime. Earlier this year, the first-term Democrat committed $5 million in federal pandemic aid to the program. Next week, the city’s spending board is slated to consider a $3.6 million grant from the Maryland governor’s crime control and prevention office, which a description says would support operating costs across the 10 sites.
The sites have operated with some degree of volatility over the years. Workers are subjected to intense degrees of secondary trauma interacting with those dealing with violence or stress. For many years, they went without cost-of-living raises. And over 14 months between 2021 and 2022, three Safe Streets workers were killed.
Until about a year ago, the Belair-Edison site was managed by the nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation. But following an internal review last year that found Safe Streets lacked adequate oversight, the city consolidated the 10 sites under the management of two large nonprofits, LifeBridge Health and Catholic Charities of Baltimore.
Safe Streets has been the subject of recurrent criticism from some members of City Council who have questioned the effectiveness and oversight of the program. The program came under scrutiny earlier this year after 30 people were shot, two fatally, at a neighborhood gathering within the footprint of the violence intervention group’s Brooklyn site in South Baltimore.
Staffers from the Brooklyn Safe Streets site were present at the gathering before violence broke out, and at a hearing in the wake of the shooting two council members pressed officials with the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement about their oversight of the program. Officials with the public safety office told the council they were not aware that of the mass gathering at Brooklyn Homes despite their oversight of Safe Streets employees, a knowledge gap that Councilman Eric Costello argued was a failure of the agency.
Since the mass shooting, the public safety office has taken steps to strengthen reporting requirements for Safe Streets workers and bolster communication between the violence interruptors and City Hall.
This article may be updated.
Jasmine Vaughn-Hall contributed reporting.