Maryland senators are weighing a bill that would direct an additional $2.5 million to the Office of the Attorney General to fight violent crime in the city of Baltimore, but Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) isn’t sold on the measure.
In an interview with Maryland Matters, Frosh said Wednesday evening that he didn’t think it was a good, neutral principle to enshrine in law a particular amount of money devoted to addressing crime in a particular jurisdiction.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said.
Frosh added that his office is willing to help with crime-fighting efforts as needed throughout the state.
“We’re willing to do everything we can to fight crime in Baltimore,” he said.
Frosh thinks his office can “add value” to crime-fighting efforts by continuing to focus on multi-defendant complex cases, which often spill over jurisdictional boundaries.
Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said he introduced the funding bill as a courtesy to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) who began pressing in September for 25 additional positions within the Office of the Attorney General to address state-level criminal violations in the city of Baltimore, where 348 people were murdered last year.
Hogan funded the positions through his proposed 2021 budget; Miller said Wednesday that introducing the measure as a bill would allow a thorough debate of the issue.
But Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D) testified in opposition to the bill Wednesday, calling it a “a waste of $2.6 million in perpetuity to duplicate an office that already exists.”
Mosby has felt her office is under attack since Hogan’s September announcement, when he called into question decisions by the state’s attorney’s office to drop cases or reach plea agreements.
“Far too often in Baltimore City, violent offenders get a slap on the wrist and are released back out onto the streets to commit yet another offense,” Hogan wrote then.
Mosby said Wednesday that Baltimore County saw an 85% increase in its homicide rate last year, but state leaders aren’t proposing that the attorney general’s office intervene there.
“No one is saying that somebody should come in and take the cases from Baltimore County,” she said.
Miller said he thinks additional prosecutors in the city can stem the number of homicides, similar to an expansion of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the state early in the last decade.
“We can do it again, if we provide the resources,” Miller said. “People coming together, staying together and working together. That’s what this bill is all about.”
Mosby said Miller was harkening back to a time of zero-tolerance policing in the city, which sparked an investigation by the Department of Justice and a federal consent decree to overhaul city policing policies.
“Tougher sentences, more prosecutors, more police is not going to reduce violence in the city of Baltimore,” she said, suggesting that the funding could be better directed to a proposal from city leaders to create intelligence centers that integrate policing, crime-reduction and social services in neighborhoods.
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy (D) testified that the additional resources could be better used to support the city police department’s efforts to close homicide cases.
“The number one thing you need to close cases and get convictions is a suspect. You also have to have evidence and you need to have witnesses,” Braveboy said. “…I think that Baltimore City could certainly use additional resources, especially with respect to violent crimes, but again those resources must be focused on those areas that will give the state’s attorney’s office the best opportunity to get convictions.”
Braveboy said the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association has been working with state officials to propose revised budget language that would allow Frosh’s office to use the additional funding for complex, multi-defendant cases that can include multiple police agencies and court systems.
Mosby and Miller sparred at times during the hearing before the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee ― particularly over whether or not Frosh’s office wanted the bill withdrawn.
Frosh clarified in an interview later that he had spoken with one of Miller’s staff members about a desire to withdraw the bill, but he hadn’t spoken with the senator about the issue directly.
Miller’s bill received a letter of support from Hogan on Wednesday.
The administration noted that the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office is one of two local prosecutors’ offices that receive dedicated funding from the state and that Frosh’s office would be “well-suited to tackle complex violent crime cases that may involve multiple defendants across jurisdictional lines.”
“The $2.5 million in funding for the Attorney General’s Office will only serve to strengthen prosecutions and is yet another tool we can utilize to address this public safety crisis,” the governor’s office wrote.