Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced a package of policy changes and legislation Wednesday intended to curb the “murders, shootings and out-of-control violence in the streets” of Baltimore.
At a news conference in downtown Baltimore, Hogan announced that he would be infusing city agencies and the Office of the Attorney General with additional funding to pursue and prosecute more gun violence cases through fiscal year 2021 budget proposals; that he would introduce legislation to expand gun violence laws and enhance penalties; and that the city and state were launching new programs to address young people charged with crimes, including to offer them more rehabilitative services.
“Our goal is to have city, state and federal prosecutors all working together to prosecute and convict more of these violent criminals,” Hogan said.
Some of the legislation Hogan will propose when the General Assembly convenes in January is similar to past proposals from the administration, but the 2020 bills would be more comprehensive, the governor said.
An expanded “Violent Firearms Offenders Act” would increase sentences for offenders who commit crimes with guns, require consecutive jail terms for multiple counts and increase sentences for those who steal firearms, possess stolen firearms, or engage in straw purchasing.
Hogan is also proposing a “Judicial Transparency Act” which would track the sentences handed down by judges in violent crime cases and the “Witness Intimidation Prevention Act” to expand penalties for witness intimidation that causes serious physical injury or death and allow courts to admit as evidence. The full text of the bills was not available Wednesday.
The governor said he was not deterred in proposing the bills despite similar provisions in the firearms offenders act languishing in the General Assembly in past years.
“Somewhere close to 90 percent of the people in Maryland and somewhere close to 90 percent of the people in Baltimore City support these things that I’m talking about here today. It’s just mind-boggling that some of the [lawmakers] have not supported it,” Hogan said, citing figures from a recent internal poll. “But we’re going to do everything we can to convince them that it’s absolutely necessary.”
The governor said he was not concerned about opposition from supporters of gun rights in the state.
“I can’t imagine that Second Amendment supporters are really concerned about obliterating the serial numbers and trying to sell illegal guns to violent criminals. I don’t think that’s protected by the Second Amendment,” Hogan said.
He added that current laws aren’t working to stem violence, particularly in the city.
“These violent criminal gangs are a totally different case and require a different set of laws,” Hogan said. “We have the toughest gun laws in America in Maryland, but it hasn’t stopped us from having 1,000 shootings so far this year in Baltimore City and more than 300 murders. So we want to go after the people who are doing the shooting.”
In addition to the proposed bills, Hogan said his 2021 budget to be unveiled in January will include $21 million in state funding directed to the city for crime-fighting efforts, including:
- $4.6 million to upgrade the Baltimore Police Department’s records management system and for license plate readers;
- $9.2 million for increased community policing;
- $1.9 million to the city state’s attorney’s office for gun violence prosecution; and
- $2.4 million to relocate the city’s police academy to an upgraded facility.
The newly proposed collaboration to deal with young offenders in the city would have the state’s Department of Juvenile Services align case management resources with city police districts to improve service delivery. Agencies will intervene in cases that do not go to court to provide more supervision and services, officials said.
“Baltimore City is thrilled to be working more closely with the Department of Juvenile Services in this new collaboration,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) said in a statement. “This partnership will help us better identify and activate the ecosystem of services and resources available to help our young people.”
The mayor’s office said he was also grateful for the promise of targeted state funding to the city.
Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) said he would use the proposed funding from the governor’s office to “continue our collaborative efforts with our law enforcement partners to fight crime in Baltimore City.”
The additional money proposed by Hogan would fund an additional 25 prosecutors and support staff assigned to specifically work on violent crimes, firearms offenses and firearms trafficking, gangs and drug trafficking.
“We have worked with Mayor Young and the Baltimore City Police Department, State’s Attorney Mosby, and multiple federal partners to prosecute gang violence and other drug and firearms trafficking in Baltimore City over the last several years, and supporting those efforts with more resources will help us make additional progress,” Frosh said in a statement.
He said his office would also continue to pursue other priorities in the city.
“We recognize, however, that prosecutors are only one part of the solution. My office will continue to work on multiple fronts to address poverty, lack of adequate housing and health care, and other problems that contribute to the root causes of crime,” Frosh said in the statement. “We must also work to reform criminal justice policies that have too often had a disparate impact on communities in Baltimore, and that exacerbate the underlying cycles of poverty and lack of economic opportunity.”
Hogan also used the news conference to tout some of the crime-fighting strategies his administration has implemented in the city, including participation in strike forces to close out warrants for violent suspects, expanding probation operations to align with police precincts, and flying 10 Maryland State Police helicopter patrols over the city while Baltimore leaders have debated whether to reinstate a privately-funded surveillance plane program.
Hogan said he would hold city leaders accountable for doing more to address violence.
“I am not the mayor of Baltimore City, I’m not the city police commissioner, I’m not the city’s state’s attorney, but keeping Marylanders safe is my responsibility,” Hogan said. “And I’m going to keep providing them with all the state and federal assistance and backup that we possibly can in order to attack this violent crime crisis from all directions and with everything we’ve got.”