Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced a $150 million plan to boost funding for state police and crime response programs on Friday, as Democratic lawmakers slammed him for misleading the public about one of their signature legislative accomplishments and the state of victim services.
Hogan called his initiative “Re-Fund The Police” and denounced calls to divert police funding to other social services as “dangerous, radical, far-left lunacy.”
Hogan said “the reality is that our police are underfunded and under attack.”
“To reverse the tide of rising crime, we need to stop demonizing and sabotaging the dedicated men and women who risk their lives every single day to keep the rest of us safe,” he said, flanked by state law enforcement officers. “We cannot defund the police, we need to re-fund the police.”
The plan “will provide a desperately needed shot in the arm to our state and local police agencies and their critical efforts to stop crime,” Hogan said.
The $150 million plan includes:
- $45 million to provide a 50% increase in state aid to local police departments across Maryland;
- $50 million for salary increases and hiring bonuses for state police; and
- $24 million for an “accountability resources fund,” which will support more body-worn cameras for officers and de-escalation training.
While Hogan said Friday’s announcement was the first of what he said would be a series of proposals on policing initiatives, he offered few details on the source or timing of the funding.
“It’s coming from a number of different sources which will be laid out in further detail when we submit our budget,” he said in response to a question.
Proposals included in Hogan’s January budget may not see funding for nine months — if approved by lawmakers.
The state of victim services
As part of the $150 million initiative, Hogan also said would restore funding to victim services programs that had been “defunded” by the Democratically controlled Congress and General Assembly, including grants to community organizations funded by the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), and state services including reimbursements for the costs of sexual assault exams and a program that shields the addresses of victims of domestic violence and human trafficking so abusers cannot locate them.
Hogan said he would direct $14 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to restore the VOCA grants. About $6 million will be directed to other services for victims, including the Sexual Assault Reimbursement Unit and the Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program.
But lawmakers disputed Hogan’s characterization that they had “defunded” victim services programs.
“Absolutely no cuts to victims’ services. None,” Sen. Guy Guzzone (D-Howard), chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee said after the press conference, said of the budget passed by the General Assembly.
What lawmakers did write into the state budget were policies intended to prioritize an anticipated decrease in federal VOCA funding for community providers first, with the assumption that the state government would have flexibility to shift money to also maintain full funding for any state-run programs.
“We wanted that money out in the community with the organizations who are making the biggest difference in the lives of victims,” Guzzone said.
The budget language was required, in part, lawmakers said, because of a lack of transparency from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victims Services about how much victim services funding the executive branch had previously spent or held in reserves.
Some lawmakers and advocates expressed concern that $14 million may not be enough to meet the current demands on VOCA funding. Service providers were told to anticipate a 20% cut before they submitted their grant applications this year, and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for services.
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said the state faced a 38% federal cut to VOCA funding and the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victims Services shifted money around to bring that cut down to 20%.
The governor’s office will ultimately use federal funding to get service providers back to “full funding” and “as quickly as possible,” Ricci said.
Groups including the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence have been advocating for the state to step in to fill the funding gap with federal stimulus funds over the summer, especially after fiscal leaders announced an unanticipated $2.5 billion surplus last month.
Hogan’s victim services announcement came on the same day 70 members of the General Assembly sent a letter to the governor advocating for the release of federal stimulus funding to fill in funding shortfalls. Community providers are facing at least $11 million in federal funding cuts, the lawmakers wrote.
Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) spearheaded the letter.
While Lierman said she was pleased to hear more funding would be headed to victim services providers, she lamented the timing and tone of the governor’s announcement.
“As the governor knows, the General Assembly does not have the power nor would it ever consider defunding victims services,” Lierman said in a phone interview.
The cut to federal VOCA funding had been foreseeable for many months and should have been addressed more proactively by the Hogan administration, Lierman said.
Victim services funding has been a looming issue for years, as the primary source of funding at the federal level, the Crime Victims Fund — the repository for federal criminal monetary penalties — has depleted because of a shift in prosecutorial policies away from court-imposed fines to non-prosecution and deferred-prosecution agreements.
In a joint statement Friday evening, U.S. Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) said from 2017 to today, the flow of Crime Victims Funds from fines and penalties dropped 92 percent, reducing resources available for state victim crime funds and grants nationally by 70 percent.
Both sponsored a “VOCA Fix” bill signed into law by President Biden in July, which will replenish the Crime Victims Fund by adding new sources of revenue, but it will be several years before the fund rebounds and money is distributed to states.
Cardin and Van Hollen noted that the bill had been signed two months before Hogan sent the state’s congressional delegation a letter outlining concerns about the drop in VOCA funding.
“Our offices have already had discussions with the governor’s staff on the state of this funding and potential solutions. We encourage him to use both federal American Rescue Plan Act and state funds as a stop-gap while the federally enacted fix is being funded by Congress,” the senators wrote. “We will continue to work with DOJ and state officials to prevent any cuts to these essential victims service providers in Maryland.”
A swift Democratic response
Hogan’s announcement came after a 2021 General Assembly session that was focused on the issue of police reform.
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said in a statement Friday afternoon that Hogan’s “misguided rhetoric” was “beneath him and the dignity of his office.”
“His attempt to politicize the critical work that the legislature has already done to have more transparent and inclusive law enforcement does nothing to move our State forward,” Jones said. “The Maryland General Assembly is requiring body cameras for better transparency, providing better police training and increasing accountability to make communities safer while the Governor’s own agencies are cutting critical funding for victim services.”
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said “police are just one part of creating safe communities.”
“A real effort to stop violence and make communities safe requires a coordinated plan that gets executed purposely every day. It also includes strategies that recognize poverty and opportunity shape the outcome of individuals,” Ferguson said in a statement.
Both presiding officers said they look forward to a more constructive conversation about improving policing and reducing crime in the state.
Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, responded to the governor’s press conference on Twitter: “We cannot view the issue of public safety through a binary sense. We can increase accountability/transparency & invest in public safety. We are both grateful for the service of law enforcement and weary from the pain of police brutality. Our reforms must take both into account.”
“The Governor’s rhetoric is not helpful in that endeavor,” he added in a second tweet.
Last year, the Goucher Poll surveyed Marylanders’ attitudes toward policing. Seventy-nine percent of people polled said they supported increasing funding for police departments to hire more or better trained officers; at the same time, 54% said they supported reducing police budgets in their community to shift the funds to social programs related to mental health, housing, and education.