The Baltimore City Health Department suspended Mondawmin area operations for Safe Streets, a community-based program to reduce crime and street violence, after two recent arrests, including the discovery of a loaded handgun and live ammunition in the possession of a Safe Streets worker who is on parole for murder.
Safe Streets is a program to mitigate crime by using outreach workers, often ex-offenders, to mediate dispute and discourage criminal activity.
Health department officials said they shut down operations at the Mondawmin site “until further notice” following allegations of criminal activity by two staff members at the West Baltimore facility.
“These two incidents are not indicative of the work of most Safe Streets staff and should not be viewed as an indictment against the program,” health department spokesman Michael Schwartzberg told the AFRO.
The most recent incident occurred Dec. 7 when a police pulled over a pickup truck driven by Levar Mullen, 33—also known as Var—because the driver was not wearing a seat belt.
According to a BPD spokesperson, officers were acting on a tip they received in November that a black male driving a silver Dodge pickup truck was selling narcotics in West Baltimore.
“On Dec. 7 detectives patrolling the Edmonson Ave. corridor—wearing plainclothes with black tactical vests with the word POLICE—pulled over Var’s pickup,” Sgt. Sarah Connolly said in a statement.
She said when the detectives approached Mullen’s truck and asked him for his driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance, he seemed “visibly nervous,” breathing heavily and complied in a jittery manner with the officers’ requests.
Police then asked Mullen if he had any guns or drugs in his possession and he said “no because he works for Safe Streets.”
Detectives then requested a K-9 unit to search Mullen’s truck.
Connolly said detectives found a Glock model 30, .45-cal. semi-automatic handgun, fully loaded with one round of ammunition in the firing chamber. Also found was a magazine for a Glock containing 10 rounds of .45-cal ammunition.
Mullen, on parole after serving seven years of a 30-year prison sentence for murder, was arrested for gun violations.
Police said the incident echoed an arrest in November when a Safe Streets employee, also from the Mondawmin facility, was apprehended by federal agents on drug and gun charges.
“Safe Streets staff often have a previous history of involvement or association in criminal activity, which is one aspect of what allows them to be viewed as credible messengers in the community,” Schwartzberg said.
He said the staff are employees of the specific community-based organization that operates each program and are not employees of the Baltimore City Health Department.
“Safe Streets has been shown to be extremely effective in mediating community situations and preventing escalations of violence,” he said.
In spite of the two recent arrests, he said, the program is effective.
Schwartzberg said a Safe Streets evaluation conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in January found that “in all four sites the program was associated with a statistically significant decline in either homicides or nonfatal shootings, or both.”
“We look forward to continuing the excellent work being done in the Mondawmin community to help stem the tide of violence,” he said.