O’Malley Calls “Believe” a Success But Some Doubt Remains
By H.R. Werner-April 11, 2012
Governor Martin O’Malley’s recent claims that the Baltimore Believe campaign was a success may not accurately reflect the campaign’s achievements.
In a recent op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun, the governor said that the campaign, which was launched under his auspices as mayor, helped Baltimore face its problems and led to positive change. The governor pointed out recent changes in Baltimore, including the low number of homicides last year, a low number of drug-overdose deaths and a high graduation rate at Baltimore City’s public schools.
Baltimore has experienced many of these changes, according to sources. Statistics from the Baltimore Sun show that there were 196 homicides in 2011, compared to 240 in 2009 and 223 in 2010. Similarly, Dr. Sheila Goldstein at the mayor’s office confirmed that juvenile shootings have been down 70% since 2007.
Brian Schelter, chief public information officer at the Baltimore City Health Department, said that drug overdose deaths have experienced a downward trend for more than 10 years. The Baltimore City Public School system also confirms that the graduation rate was up last year and that there has been a 20 percent increase since 2006. However, not all of these changes can be directly linked a campaign that began 10 years ago and was unofficially suspended when O’Malley left the mayor’s office in 2007.
Furthermore, this campaign is not easy to define. As a public relations campaign, it sought to bring awareness, a value that is not easily measured.
“As it was originally conceived, Believe was social marketing campaign to get people to believe in Baltimore,” said Arianne Spaccarelli, who served as the CitiStat Coordinator for Baltimore’s Health Department. “It was enlisting the citizens of Baltimore in the solution instead of the solution just being handed down from the government.”
It was hoped that people would seek drug treatment, report problems in the community and generally change the way they viewed Baltimore, Spaccarelli said.
According to John Linder, the public relations consultant behind the campaign, one of the main goals of Believe was to attract volunteers and get local non-profits involved in the city. In late 2002, Linder’s progress report revealed that there had been nearly five times as many calls to mentoring agencies compared to 2001. However, looking back over the past decade, it is difficult to tell if this inspiration lasted.
A coordinator from Business Volunteers Unlimited Maryland said that generally there are several factors that can affect the level of civic engagement. Economic changes and generational trends may have more of a long-term impact on the city’s volunteerism.
Statistics on drug use and crime in the city may also reflect other factors.
“Things have changed,” said Jeffrey Long, assistant program manager at the Baltimore Needle Exchange Program, “but things go through a natural cycle—there are a whole lot of different factors.”
Long said that during the campaign, there were no additional funds contributed towards drug treatment. At the time of the campaign, his program had approximately 300 hundred slots available for treatment and Believe did provide more.
Although people who lived in the neighborhoods targeted by the campaign were affected to some degree, real change would have required a financial investment, said Long.
“During that time of Believe, there was no extra money or ‘let’s increase these slots,’” Long said. “We just kept doing what we always did.”
The city’s recent decrease in crime might also be linked to other circumstances.
In an email interview, David Simon, creator of The Wire and former Baltimore Sun Reporter, suggested that other factors have led to the falling murder rate. Because of a population decline, particularly in areas prone to violence, there are fewer murderers and fewer people to kill.
According to Simon, the city did experience 15 percent fewer homicides during O’Malley’s mayoral administration thanks to the efforts of former police commissioner Edward Norris. However, O’Malley also sought to manipulate the number of non-murder crimes.
“City Hall had commanders cheat felony totals by downgrading crimes so that he claimed a 40 percent decline in everything other than murder,” Simon said. “How can you have a 40 percent decline in serious assault but only a 15 percent drop in murder? Are Baltimoreans becoming more lethal shots?”
Ultimately, Simon said, “Commanders were pressed to make crimes disappear on paper so that O’Malley could run for governor and claim to have reduced crime more than he legitimately did.”
O’Malley may have foreseen some of the criticism directed against his claims.
“And to the cynical birds in the rafters who would like to dismiss Baltimore’s achievements across three mayoral administrations as merely part of a national trend, think again,” he wrote in his op-ed. “If you think smarter policing, better drug treatment options, youth interventions and sufficient public funding don’t matter, just look at Newark, Trenton or other cities where crime is rising.”
Whatever the positive changes in Baltimore can be attributed to, it is difficult to say that the Believe campaign motivates change today. But those seeking to help the city will continue doing “what we always did.”
Read more about the Believe Campaign here: