Operations have been suspended and a site supervisor arrested at the Belair-Edison outpost of the Baltimore anti-violence group Safe Streets in the wake of an FBI raid on the location last week, a spokesperson for the nonprofit that manages the site said Monday.
David Caldwell was charged with illegally possessing ammunition, according to court records, and Caldwell and two other staffers at the site in the 3400 block of Belair Road were on leave as of Monday, said Stephani Renbaum, spokesperson for LifeBridge Health’s Center for Hope, in an email. The decision to suspend operations at the site were made in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which oversees Safe Streets, along with staff of the outpost, Renbaum said.
Days after the FBI raided the Safe Streets outpost in Northeast Baltimore, the extent of a federal investigation — and how much it focuses on Baltimore’s flagship anti-gun violence group — remains unclear.
LifeBridge confirmed last week that a federal search warrant was executed at the Belair-Edison site and reported that federal agents “visited” the homes of two staff members from that outpost. The health care system did not clarify Monday why a third employee was on leave, but Renbaum said that under its policy “any employee facing criminal charges will be put on leave without pay and may be terminated from employment pending adjudication.”
The Safe Streets visits seem to have been part of a larger operation carried out last week. The FBI said Monday that 15 locations were raided Thursday, though there were no federal arrests made.
Charging documents obtained by The Baltimore Banner show at least two men were arrested and charged with state-level crimes as a result of FBI raids that morning. In one, at a home in the Park Heights area of Northwest Baltimore, police seized a .380 handgun with an obliterated serial number and extended magazine, as well as two other guns from a safe. Police also found a gun at an apartment in the Frankford neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore.
The documents say the raids were carried out by the FBI Safe Streets task force, which has no connection to the city’s Safe Streets program and, in fact, predates it.
Asked about the status of the Belair-Edison Safe Streets site, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement said Monday afternoon that the agency had no additional information to share.
Safe Streets staffers are unarmed and do often dangerous work to mediate, or “interrupt,” conflicts before they turn violent, operating across 10 outposts in some of Baltimore’s most violent neighborhoods. The reach of the program, though, is small, covering fewer than 3 square miles of the city.
The program 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 Safe Streets.
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 began full operations in 2020.
The sites have operated with some degree of volatility over the years and face recurrent scrutiny from some members of the City Council.
Councilman Antonio Glover, who represents the Belair-Edison neighborhood, said after a council meeting Monday evening that he knew nothing beyond the media reports about the situation at the Safe Streets location. The East Baltimore councilman said he typically stays in touch with workers at the Belair-Edison site. They may be doing the right thing, he said, but he urged more transparency from public safety officials and nonprofit managers about the program’s operations and whether employees there are still engaged in criminal activity.
“I just want to know exactly what’s going on,” said Glover, pointing to the millions in taxpayer funding that has gone toward funding Safe Streets’s outreach and violence intervention work. “We just want to know exactly, where is it going?”
On Wednesday, less than a week after the raid, the city’s spending board approved a $3.6 million grant for Safe Streets from the Maryland governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention without discussion. The grant will support operating costs across all 10 sites.
Mayor Brandon Scott responded to the raid at a news conference afterwards, reiterating calls for accountability for anyone found guilty of wrongdoing. The first-term Democrat also welcomed an audit of his Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.
But Scott defended Safe Streets’ anti-violence approach, touting recessions this year in both homicides and nonfatal shoots. Recent findings suggest the program has helped prevent homicides and nonfatal shootings within its footprint, the mayor noted, and he argued that the actions of a handful of people do “not negate the critical work that violence interruptors do in our city on a daily basis.”
As part of its model, Safe Streets hires individuals who were formerly engaged in criminal networks, and at points over the years law enforcement has alleged that workers remained involved. In 2013, operations at the Safe Streets outpost in Mondawmin were suspended after two outreach workers were arrested in under two weeks.
And on two separate occasions — first in 2010 and again in 2018 — law enforcement has linked Safe Streets staff with the Black Guerrilla Family, a gang. In response to the first instance, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake temporarily froze funding for Safe Streets before reinstating it after a task force failed to substantiate criminal ties. In the second case, a Safe Streets worker pleaded guilty to federal charges after prosecutors alleged that he had used Safe Streets offices to hold Black Guerrilla Family meetings.
At the same time, Safe Streets 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.
Though the program’s effectiveness at reducing violent crime has varied over the years across the 10 sites, recent research has suggested encouraging results. 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.
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.
Johns Hopkins professor Daniel Webster, a longtime researcher of gun violence in Baltimore, said Thursday after the Belair-Edison raid that these kinds of incidents are “costly to trust” and should be “a wake-up call” to strengthen oversight of Safe Streets.
But Webster, who authored the positive findings on Safe Streets’ impact earlier this year, also cautioned against drawing conclusions before more information comes out. The vast majority of people involved in violence interruptor work are abiding by the law, he said, but people often don’t give them the same benefit of the doubt that they do the police. Webster expressed his hope that the takeaway from the raid isn’t to stop providing support to Safe Streets.
“When an officer is caught doing something bad, people don’t usually say, ‘Well, we should shut down the police department,’” he said.