Can Communities Control Crime? The Baltimore Experiment


“Are you saying you can’t keep your hood safe?”

Cops want communities to take responsibility for their own crime problems.

Gang members called Ceasefire organizers to say they would not engage in violence, Bridgeford said. Corner boys said their blocks would stay quiet.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University


Community members in Baltimore City decided that formal strategies to reduce crime were simply not working. They decided to take matters into their own hands and worked with a wide variety of associated groups to send a message; no homicides for 72 hours.

The story went worldwide with international media fascinated with the upsurge of murders in Baltimore and cities throughout the United States. Universally, they asked if communities can control crime.

The community organizations didn’t ask permission; they simply decided that city leadership was inept. The city of Baltimore wasn’t going to solve their problems. They had no choice but to take charge.

From the Baltimore Sun:

“Errricka Bridgeford received a standing ovation from the congregation at Kingdom Life Church Sunday.

Bridgeford, a special guest at the church in West Baltimore, and others had called for a 72-hour halt to the violence that has claimed the lives of more than 200 people in Baltimore so far this year — the fastest pace of violence in modern Baltimore history through July. Groups took the message to the streets, hosting dozens of events, staying out all night and offering food and services. The ceasefire was to end at midnight.

Despite their efforts, four people were shot, two of them fatally, in Baltimore Saturday and Sunday.

During an upbeat church service that focused on the message of finding light in the darkness, Bridgeford outlined the successes of the movement she said had gained international recognition from supporters as far away as Portugal, Russia, and China.

Groups, families and individuals hosted more than 40 events over the course of the weekend to encourage an end to the violence, and “celebrate life on their own terms,” she said.

Gang members called Ceasefire organizers to say they would not engage in violence, Bridgeford said. Corner boys said their blocks would stay quiet.” Baltimore Sun

Law Enforcement Doesn’t Prevent Crime

When I left policing and went to college, my Criminology professors stated that the criminal justice system is limited as to controlling crime.

“Think about it,” they stated, “does the criminal justice system stop an abusive husband from beating his wife? Do we make decisions as to using drugs, cheating on our taxes, buying stolen goods, or any other form of criminality?” Are bullies deterred because a police officer momentarily appears on their streets?

They suggested that communities and the larger society control crime, and that law enforcement and the rest of the justice system have limited powers.

Society has been able to reduce drinking and driving, domestic violence, child abuse and probably crime in general by sending clear messages as to what’s acceptable behavior.

We’ve always known that communities play “the” major role as to neighborhood safety. It was never the job of law enforcement to “control” bad behavior. Law enforcement was there to provide stability, thus allowing the public to assert itself.

Cops want communities to take responsibility for their own crime problems. This is criminology 101; cops are not there to solve the ills of the world.

Crime control is principally the responsibility of communities (i.e.,informal versus formal social control). Communities decide what’s acceptable behavior, and what isn’t.

We need to understand and depend on the power of peers and communities to control crime. To do that, communities need to take responsibility for their own safety.

I was the Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Director of Information Services for the National Crime Prevention Council. In both positions, we understood that communities were “the” key ingredients as to asserting proper behavior.

Back to Baltimore

Yes, I understand that there are endless additional issues for Baltimore and many other cities that are not addressed here that affect crime and disorder. Grinding poverty, community mistrust and police officer assertiveness (or lack of proactive policing) all play a part.

From the standpoint of many police officers, some city administrators have done everything possible to destroy their effectiveness, thus strongly rebuked, they sit on the sidelines, see Did Baltimore Destroy American Policing?

If you want to know the power of law enforcement, remove them and see what happens.

But what doesn’t change, and will never change, is the fact that communities and the larger society essentially define acceptable behavior.

The world finds it fascinating that community leadership in Baltimore would find its voice and sense of authority. Now, turn that authority around to the point where every citizen of every city understands that it’s their personal responsibility to decide what’s proper behavior, and what isn’t.

We need to understand and support that role and stop blaming cops for failing to reduce crime. Your decision to beat your kid is your decision. Law enforcement is powerless to prevent it.

Friend’s don’t let friends drive drunk. You are a coward for hitting your spouse. Meth kills. Be a good parent. Facebook shaming of abusive parents or partners is becoming common.

Simple steps of communication enforced by the larger community lets everyone know that you are a jerk for engaging in behavior detrimental to the community.

Naysayers will state that you can’t expect a community to stand up to the criminals who rule many urban neighborhoods.

Tell that to Errricka Bridgeford and her fellow citizens of Baltimore; they know that they have no choice.


How Baltimore tried, and failed, to go 72 hours without a murder. 

City officials and activists arranged for a “ceasefire” in the hope of proving to themselves and the rest of the country that they could do something to quell the ceaseless toll of gun violence there. For 41 hours it worked. Then, in a span of five hours, there were two fatal shootings. And then for 26 more hours peace was restored. Not perfect, say organizers, but close enough so they plan to try again. Baltimore Sun

BBC Report

“I grew up in West Baltimore. I’ve been raped twice. My brother got killed … I’ve lost my stepson. I’ve lost cousins. Two weeks ago, I lost somebody. Some years I go to two funerals in one day,” she says. “It’s not that I’m naïve. It’s just that my optimism is gangster.”

When the people she talks to scoff at her idea of a violence-free weekend, she turns it around on them.

“Are you saying you can’t keep your hood safe?” she asks them.  BBC


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