Over two weekends under a reinstated youth curfew, only two kids have come into Baltimore’s city-managed late-night centers so far, a result that officials from Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration touted Monday night as evidence of the controversial policy’s effectiveness.

Neither of the two kids who have come into the centers since enforcement began on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend have been transported by the city’s shuttle service, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement Director Shantay Jackson told council members near the end of an almost three-hour budget hearing Monday night. Instead, they walked into the centers on their own.

The public safety head also noted that in the two weekends since Baltimore’s long-standing curfew went back into effect, no juveniles have been shot — a reprieve from the city’s recent surge in teen gun violence. That, and the fact that the city hasn’t had to pick up kids and take them to centers late at night, is a sign the curfew policy is convincing kids to go home, Jackson said.

“Quite frankly, that has everything to do with the level of messaging that we put in place,” said Jackson, who pointed to a wall-to-wall effort officials undertook ahead of Memorial Day weekend to distribute 80,000 informational fliers to students, send out mass texts and robocalls to city residents and broadcast curfew plans through local media.

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The brief update on the Scott administration’s enforcement of youth curfew came in the final minutes of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement hearing, in which council members focused on the effectiveness of the agency’s long-term, community-based approaches to violent crime and questioned how the city will sustain its work once an infusion of federal pandemic aid runs dry.

Councilman Mark Conway, who raised questions about the curfew near midnight during Monday’s hearing, responded positively to the administration’s reports on implementation of the policy so far. But he added he hopes to see more data on the number of kids the city is communicating with through its outreach staff, and how the number of kids out beyond curfew is fluctuating each night.

Scott first announced the city would reinstate enforcement of its youth curfew, which applies to residents ages 16 and younger, after an Inner Harbor shooting in a crowd of teenagers injured two. And while he has faced criticism from advocates and researchers about the effectiveness of the policy and potential for a disproportionate impact on Black children, he pushed ahead with an approach that emphasizes social services while aiming to minimize teen interactions with police.

The mayor announced the city's strategy for teen violence this summer, including enforcement of the youth curfew, at a press conference this afternoon on May 24, 2023.
The mayor announced the city’s strategy for addressing teen violence this summer, including enforcement of the youth curfew, at a press conference on May 24, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Kids who break curfew can be brought to one of two late-night centers in East or West Baltimore staffed by social service providers and non-law enforcement city employees, but only if they consent to being taken there. Officials have targeted enforcement of the policy at three popular gathering spots in the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and Federal Hill and deployed four specially marked shuttles to roam neighborhoods in search of kids out after hours.

City Administrator Faith Leach recounted her experience staffing the city’s curfew response over Memorial Day weekend, first at a late-night center Friday night, then going to the Inner Harbor the night following. Leach said the team at the Inner Harbor reached “dozens” of young people who had gathered the second night of the holiday weekend, estimating she spoke with close to 40 kids.

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The city administrator stressed that the late-night centers are only part of the city’s overarching strategy for reinstating curfew, a plan that also aims to connect kids with resources and safe events. Close to 350 young people came out for a free, city-sponsored event the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend, she estimated.

“This is not just about a center, nor is it about vans, right?” she said. “This is a pretty comprehensive strategy.”

The future of Scott’s public safety office

Council members also used the Monday hearing to dig into the sustainability of Scott’s public safety office, a team he launched in one of his first acts as mayor, and which he helped kick-start with close to $50 million in federal pandemic aid. The city has until the end of 2026 to spend all of that money, and, for some on the City Council, measurable outcomes from the office’s long-term approach to violent crime could prove decisive in determining how much money to give the office in the future.

Jackson emphasized the significant decline Baltimore has seen so far this year in homicides and nonfatal shootings, making the case to council members that the city’s new emphasis on community-based approaches to violence is already paying dividends for public safety.

Still, Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer questioned Jackson on whether she expects Baltimore to hit the mayor’s targeted 15% reduction in homicides and nonfatal shootings, quizzing the public safety director on what metrics — if not shooting numbers — city officials should consider when determining a budget for her agency.

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In a few years, when federal pandemic aid expires, “we need to decide,” Schleifer said. “Is that something that we continue to invest in?”

While the city’s homicide and shooting counts matter, Jackson stressed the importance of other “underlying” metrics, such as the number of violent crime victims the city is able to support and the rates at which people relapse into criminal behavior after accepting city services.

Monday night’s questioning comes as the immediate future of the mayor’s public safety office — as much as it’s long-term outlook — remains up the air. Jackson plans to resign from her role, which she has held since the start of Scott’s tenure, at the end of the month. City Administrator Faith Leach told council members she hopes to have a new director in place within 60 days, with an interim to be appointed in the meantime.

Among its priorities, the Office of Neighborhood Safety has used its federal windfall to award grants to dozens of anti-violence nonprofits, to connect incarcerated people with temporary city jobs, and to support its own expansion to more than 40 staff members. Almost half of those staff positions are funded with the one-time federal funds, while the office is budgeted for $22 million out of the city’s general fund in the coming fiscal year.

Director Jackson’s annual salary is $223,000, Budget Director Laura Larsen told council members Monday, which she estimated is up from close to $195,000 at the start of the Scott administration.

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Jackson has been the public face of the Scott administration’s focus on alternative approaches to violent crime, and Councilman Zeke Cohen questioned the administration Monday on its commitment to sustaining her strategy under new leadership.

Leach made clear that the mayor believes wholeheartedly in the work of Jackson’s team and intends to hold the course after her departure. “We will only double down on those commitments,” she said.