Listing some of the recent headline-grabbing stories of crime and death in Baltimore, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. announced a list of new initiatives aimed at combating violent crime in the city, which saw 309 homicides last year.
Hogan (R) said Tuesday the state had been “heartbroken” over the death of Taylor Hayes, a 7-year-old girl shot in July while riding in the backseat of a car.
In November, residents were “horrified” to learn that Taylor’s 5-year-old sister was shot, caught in crossfire as she walked down McKean Avenue carrying a new baby doll. And weeks later, Jacquelyn Smith was fatally stabbed on a Friday night after she rolled down her car window to give money to a woman panhandling in the rain.
“These are just the most recent images seared into our minds. As tragic and as heartbreaking as they are, sadly they are just a small number of the never-ending list of victims of violent crime in this city,” Hogan said, flanked by uniformed officers from state law enforcement agencies. “… People who live in Baltimore are rightfully scared. They don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods and citizens all across the state are outraged by the daily headlines of this rampant gang violence. They’re completely fed up and they’re crying out for somebody to do something to stop these killings.”
The governor said he would launch a new violent crime joint operations center in the city to serve as a hub for state, federal and local law enforcement agencies and task forces, including the violent crime and gang eradication forces of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Baltimore Police Department; Homeland Security Investigations; FBI; and the U.S. Marshals Service. The operations center will be the home of a strike force of 200 law enforcement officers from 16 agencies, which will focus on disrupting and dismantling the violent criminal organizations, Hogan said.
Hogan said the state currently provides $7 million to fund 75 Baltimore city police officers, and the next year’s budget will provide additional funding to pay recruitment bonuses to attract new patrol officers.
Hogan said the state also will focus on charging firearms crimes in federal court, where mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes start at five years. The cases would be moved to federal court through an expansion of Project Exile, a program at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland that focuses on prosecution of gun crimes.
Hogan said his budget plans for next year will include funding requests from U.S. Attorney Robert Hur to add additional federal prosecutors to his office who would be dedicated to charging repeat violent offenders in the city with gun crimes.
Hogan also will seek to change two state laws, introducing the Repeat Firearms Offenders Act of 2019, which will increase the state’s minimum sentence to 10 years for repeat offenders who use a gun to commit a violent crime. A similar bill sponsored by the governor failed to emerge from committee last year.
Hogan will introduce the Judicial Transparency Act of 2019, which would require the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to publish judge-by-judge information on sentences handed down for violent crimes across the state.
“I’ve been fighting for four years to bring further transparency and accountability to state government. That standard should not just apply to the executive and legislative branches, it should also extend to the judicial branch as well,” Hogan said.
Hogan said prosecutors in the city often face difficulty obtaining convictions because potential witnesses fear coming forward.
“All too often, cases fall apart and violent felons and murderers continue to walk the streets because witnesses are intimidated and are too afraid to come forward,” Hogan said.
His proposed budget will fund all eligible requests for victim’s services programs in the state next year, estimated to be about $50 million.