A month and a half after six Baltimore officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray, policing has dwindled in some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods, and murders have risen to levels not seen in four decades. Police union officials say that officers are still coming to work, but that some feel a newfound reluctance and are stepping back, questioning whether they will be prosecuted for actions they take on the job, reports the New York Times. Around the nation, communities and police departments are struggling to adapt to an era of heightened scrutiny, when every stop can be recorded on a cellphone. Residents, clergy members and neighborhood leaders say the past six weeks have made another reality clear: that as much as many people may legitimately fear and distrust the police, the solution has to be better policing, not a diminished police presence.
At least 55 people, the highest pace since the early 1970s, have been murdered in Baltimore since May 1, when prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced the criminal charges against the officers. Victims of shootings have included people involved in criminal activity and young children who were simply in the wrong place. Mosby's charges were seen as calming the city. They enraged the police rank and file, who pulled back. The number of arrests plunged, and the murder rate doubled. The reduced police presence gave criminals space to operate, according to community leaders and some law enforcement officials. Soaring violence has made Baltimore a battleground for political arguments about whether a backlash against police tactics has led to more killings in big cities like New York, St. Louis and Chicago, and whether “de-policing,” as academics call it, can cause crime to rise.