GOP Lawmaker: Public Safety Debate Has Been ‘Politicized’

    The Maryland Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Wednesday that would allow Baltimore City the authority to impose a residency requirement on top police officials.

    But the vote came over the vigorous objections of a Republican lawmaker who said the fight against crime has been “politicized.”

    Senate Bill 72, sponsored by Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), would only affect six members of the force — four deputy commissioners and two colonels, he said.

    State lawmakers generally defer to the wishes of their colleagues on bills deemed “local.”

    But Sen. Robert Cassilly (R-Harford), an attorney and veteran who served in Iraq, said the legislature is well within its rights to protect the state’s outsized “investments” in the city.

    “It is grossly disproportionate, on a per capita basis,” he said. “We built those stadiums. We built that aquarium. We built those highways, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It’s way beyond what we have invested in any other counties.”

    Last year there were more than 1,000 shootings and a record 348 homicides in Maryland’s largest city.

    During floor debate on the measure, Cassilly said a big part of “the crime crisis” in Baltimore is traceable to the policies city leaders have adopted.

    “It may further other political aims,” he said of the proposed residency requirement, “but there’s no evidence that this measure would in any way improve public safety in Baltimore City.”

    “We’ve politicized law enforcement,” he added. “We’ve politicized criminal justice. … It’s not been productive for us at all.”

    McCray noted that his bill wouldn’t require top command staff to live in the city — only that it would give the City Council and mayor the ability to adopt such legislation. Maryland’s 23 counties already have such authority. But the Baltimore Police Department is unique in that it is a state agency under the law.

    The debate over residency requirements for top police and fire officials has played out for many years in communities all across the country. They often cause friction, particularly in urban areas in which new mayors have sought to diversify the command staff.

    McCray said police officials are more invested in the communities they serve when they reside there — and that residents benefit from having officers as neighbors.

    “Imagine how safe that you feel when you live right next door to a police officer,” he said.

    But Cassilly said “we’ve got to quit this nonsense,” because the stakes are high.

    “People die. They get beat up. They get murdered. They get mugged. They get raped. They get killed. This is wrong. … We’ve got to stop fooling around.”

    The measure was approved largely along party lines, 37-9.

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    Bruce DePuyt
    Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.