Senator Cory McCray

By Sen. Cory McCray

To truly make our neighborhoods and communities safe from crime, we must fully consider all of the factors that lead to crime, with an eye for the true elements and measures that cause and affect public safety. Put simply, we must approach the issue as a whole rather than merely identifying its parts. It’s easy to interchange terms like crime and violence, but in thinking about the safety of our communities, let’s look to invest in solutions that create and enhance our long-term public safety. Reducing crime so all citizens are safe in their neighborhood is one of the most pressing challenges facing the city of Baltimore, and we, its leaders, have the chief responsibility to put forward thoughtful solutions that serve our well-being. 

Here’s one way those of us in East Baltimore have acted swiftly to reduce crime and protect the public: holding problem liquor stores accountable by using data and tighter regulation. I introduced Senate Bill 571 in the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session to address problem liquor stores that habitually nurture an environment conducive to crime and violence. The legislation was initiated as the result of a call from a neighbor in the Berea Community concerning an area package goods store that had experienced two shootings in the first week of October 2019. The community subsequently organized a meeting at the Eastern District Police Station with Commissioner Harrison and Councilwoman Sneed to discuss the situation, better understand the problem, and seek a serious solution. During the meeting, a number of community leaders complained about the 29 shootings that had taken place in front of the establishment or within 500 feet of the location over the previous three years. 

As a result of the information we learned from that meeting, we worked together with the community and the Eastern District’s BPD Commander Major Wells, to identify the geographic boundaries that had the highest rates of violent crime in our area. The common element of these establishments was that their liquor license entitled these package good liquor stores to open as early as 6 a.m. and close as late as 2 a.m. Further mapping of the locations indicated that all of these package goods liquor stores were within a one-mile radius of each other, no matter the direction in which you stand. On the face of the matter, the concentration of crime related to these 26 package goods liquor stores in the area might seem benign, but the facts speak clearly that their relaxed regulation and limited interaction with the neighborhood or neighborhood association outside of the sale of liquor contributes to the public safety harm, and ultimately results in crime.

In thinking about how to address this problem, we pondered on how we got to a place where the oversaturation of liquor stores in such a small area are open for 20 hours of a 24-hour day. This is accepted as a normal way of life in Baltimore. I know of no other jurisdiction in the State of Maryland where this would be accepted. For these reasons, the community came together to research, introduce and implement the legislation, which is now law, that reduces the hours of operation for these problem stores from twenty hours per day to thirteen hours per day.

On July 1, the new law took effect. We have worked enthusiastically with the Baltimore City Liquor Board to communicate the new hours of sale to the 26 package good liquor establishments. In the first 30 days since our law was enacted, only three packaged good establishments failed to conform to the newly-established restrictions. Violence in the area also seems to be stemming too. In the prior three years, we had a total of 130 plus shootings and 68 homicides in front of or within 500 feet of the 26 combined. Since the start of this new regulation, and every month thereafter beginning August 2020, I have intentionally reviewed the data related to this problem to better understand the impact of our decision and the law we enacted. In September 2020, in comparison to 2019, we have seen a 50 percent reduction in homicides. We have also seen a 200 percent decrease in violent crime in the area during the hours that these problem liquor stores are now closed (10 p.m. – 2 a.m.). I hope this trend holds true and adds to the work we are doing to implement public safety solutions. 

No child or teenager should walk past three open liquor stores on their way to school each morning yet be unable to find a supermarket within a mile of their home. But this is the reality for many young people living and growing up in East Baltimore. I believe that Baltimore is on the verge of a course correction. With new leadership we are redirecting how we spend our public resources and set public priorities. We no longer accept the existing state of affairs as a normal condition for our communities. We own and direct the policies and practices that contribute to the success of our children. Like the pressing issue of crime, we seek to address the full breadth of issues that contribute to the current state of public safety. 

Like our experience in East Baltimore addressing problem liquor stores, we seek policies that contribute to the longevity of our seniors and the public health and longevity of our communities. These conversations must be intentional, begin in the neighborhoods that experience the problem, and be informed by facts and data. No longer can we operate with mere acceptance of the status quo. It’s going to take everything in us to stop crime in our great city, strengthen public safety, and make overall well-being our top priority. I see this strategy working and look forward to more examples of this success. 

Cory McCray is a member of the Maryland State Senate, representing the 45th District, which encompasses Northeast and East Baltimore City. He also serves as the first vice chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.

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