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Government & Politics

Following Endorsement Snub, Baker Takes Aim at Crime in Prince George’s

Gubernatorial hopeful Rushern Baker (D) speaks to reporters outside The Mall at Prince George’s on Wednesday. Behind him are two supporters, Prince George’s Council members Todd Turner (left) and Derrick Leon Davis (right). Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

In a clear swipe at his successor, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Rushern L. Baker III said on Wednesday that Prince George’s County is losing ground in its efforts to fight violent crime.

Flanked by five members of the county council who have endorsed his campaign, the former two-term executive said Prince George’s is less safe than it was when he left office in 2018.

“We had 130 homicides last year,” Baker (D) told reporters. “You have to go back 15 years when that (last) happened.”

A county police official said on Wednesday there were 134 homicides in Prince George’s in 2021, up from 73 the year before. Carjackings have spiked as well.

According to a Maryland Matters analysis, Prince George’s averaged 102 homicides per year during the late 2000s, when Baker’s predecessor Jack B. Johnson (D), was in office. During Baker’s tenure, there were 60 homicides per year, on average. In the three years since, there have been 87 killings per year, on average.

Baker tied the drop in crime to his Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, a program he launched after a spike in killings during his first weeks in office. The effort funneled resources from several government agencies into high-crime neighborhoods — and he pledged to create a statewide version of the program if elected governor.

“We didn’t just focus on solving crimes,” he said. “We also focused on these neighborhoods that have been forgotten… with transportation, with employment, working with returning citizens, looking at school dropouts, making sure that we have health care there.”

According to state statistics, the violent crime rate in Prince George’s dropped from 736 incidents for every 100,000 people in 2010 to 307 in 2018.

Baker said he initially intended to unveil his “Transforming Maryland Initiative” in Baltimore, but decided to do it in Prince George’s instead — in part because of the March 25 shootout inside The Mall at Prince George’s in Hyattsville, which claimed the life of a 16-year-old.

Neither he nor the council members who spoke on his behalf mentioned his successor, Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), by name, but his decision hold a press conference in their home county was widely perceived as a rebuke of her public safety record.

In March, Alsobrooks endorsed a Baker rival, Wes Moore. At the time, Baker acknowledged that her decision — a potential blow to his strategy to run up a big vote total in his home county — was a disappointment. Alsobrooks served as state’s attorney during the years he was executive, and the two have been friendly.

Though a senior aide, Alsobrooks declined to comment.

In an interview, Baker acknowledged that four years ago — during his first run for governor — he would not have held a crime event in a community headed by a friend, for fear of causing hurt feelings.

“The decision I made this time to run was to speak truth to power, no matter where it is,” he said. “When you look at the number of homicides that we’ve had, it’s appalling.”

“If the problem is here, I need to be able to speak truth to that, or else I’m not running an authentic campaign.”

Sen. Obie Patterson (D-Prince George’s), a Moore supporter, suggested that Baker “is looking for a little oxygen for his campaign.”

“He’s a candidate, and he’s probably throwing things up against the wall, hoping that some of them will stick,” the lawmaker said.

Five members of the county council — Democrats Mel Franklin, Todd Turner, Deni Taveras, Dannielle Glaros and Derrick Leon Davis — attended Baker’s event. Several spoke and all held campaign signs.

“Under him, we dropped to the lowest crime rates known to history within Prince George’s County,” said Taveras, whose district includes The Mall. “Now we’re back again, in less than three years, where we started.”

Taveras, who lost her father to street violence, was at a nearby drug store when the shooting at the mall occurred. “I’m like in my own neighborhood, not feeling safe. It struck to the heart of the community. We were struck to our core.”