BALTIMORE—Baltimore City residents think the city’s top priorities should be youth programs, affordable housing, and small business and neighborhood development, according to the Blueprint for Baltimore survey, which canvassed more than 5,000 Baltimore City residents in the fall. These priorities are sharply at odds with the proposed Baltimore City budget for fiscal year 2021, which directs more than $509 million to the Baltimore Police Department. Policing was the fifth-highest priority identified in the Blueprint survey.
“OSI is pleased to see a robust discussion about the city budget and the extent to which it reflects or does not reflect the priorities of Baltimore residents,” says Danielle Torain, director of OSI-Baltimore. “I hope the Blueprint for Baltimore data can be a useful tool to guide those discussions.”
OSI-Baltimore partnered with community-based organizations, including Baltimore Votes, Black Girls Vote, CASA, the No Boundaries Coalition, and Organizing Black on the Blueprint survey, conducting on-the-ground canvassing in Baltimore neighborhoods often overlooked in more traditional surveys (see one-page summary of the results; explore the data portal). When asked what changes would make the most difference in their neighborhood, the top answer was “safer streets.” And when asked how the city should allocate funds to reduce violence, the top answers were “Expand the Safe Streets Program” and “Improve access to mental health and substance use services.” “Increase the number of officers” was the fourth most popular option.
“Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution,” says Eean Logan, Get Out the Vote Organizer & Youth Advisor for the No Boundaries Coalition, one of the community partners that helped design and execute the survey. “The Blueprint survey results show that Baltimoreans have priorities for the way their tax dollars are spent. It would behoove lawmakers to listen to residents as we’ve seen the pain of voiceless communities boil over in recent protests across the country.”
Dr. Lawrence Brown, the former associate professor of Community Health and Policy at Morgan State University who coined the term “Black Butterfly” to describe racially segregated and disinvested communities of East and West Baltimore, helped train Data Fellows to conduct the Blueprint survey.
“These survey data reveal that Baltimoreans desire city services that support community-based violence prevention, mental health and substance use resources, and support for people affected by violence,” says Dr. Brown, who is also a 2012 OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow. “The majority of Baltimoreans believe that the path to more public safety means shifting public dollars away from policing and directing them towards services that support conflict mediation, therapy, and healing.”
On Friday, the City Council voted to cut $22 million—about 4.3%—of the Baltimore Police Department budget, including overtime and marine and mounted units. City Council members hoped these funds could be used to open recreation centers on Sundays, increase trauma services, and offer black-owned businesses forgivable loans, but Mayor Jack Young, who has the sole discretion reallocate funds, indicated that wouldn’t happen.
“For far too long, our elected officials have passed budgets that do not reflect the priorities of residents,” says Tre Murphy, Director Of Strategy & Programs at Organizing Black, one of the organizations that collaborated to design and conduct the Blueprint survey. “The Blueprint for Baltimore data clearly outline where residents believe their tax payers dollars should go. This is a chance for our elected officials to lead by example and fund Black futures.”
OSI Director Danielle Torain says shifting the Baltimore City budget to better align with community priorities will take time.
“If Baltimore moves to significantly reduce the police budget to be more in-line with residents’ priorities, it will also need to invest significantly in existing community-based programs and support the establishment of new community-based institutions,” she says. “This process will not happen overnight. The existing, law enforcement-based approach to public safety has been in place for decades, and it will likely take decades to establish and implement a well-functioning community-based approach. OSI stands ready to work with the city and all partners to move in that direction.”