House and Senate Democratic leaders on Tuesday announced a broad legislative package aimed at reducing violent crime in Maryland that they claim would take a more comprehensive approach than the solutions Gov. Larry Hogan recently proposed.
Their announcement came one day before Hogan is set to deliver his annual State of the State Address to the General Assembly and about a month after Hogan revealed his administration’s crime-reduction proposals The governor’s address is scheduled for noon EST Wednesday and will be his sixth since taking office in January 2015.
“We can’t just legislate our way to safer communities. We don’t just need new laws. Our existing laws need to work more effectively,” House Speaker Adrienne Jones said at a news conference at the Lowe House office building in Annapolis accompanied by more than a dozen of her colleagues.
“Our public safety package offers a broader approach to reducing crime. We’ll start by examining our own efforts in the state government and holding state agencies to a higher accountability standard.”
Jones said new thinking is needed on how best to fight crime.
“Creating safer communities requires all of us to think outside the box, re-examine our own efforts and apply a broad array of innovative solutions. We can’t just police our way out of this problem.”
Mike Ricci, director of communications for Hogan said the Democrat’s plan is not more comprehensive than what the governor proposed earlier this year.
In an email, to MarylandReporter.com, Ricci noted the following highlights of Hogan’s plan:
- Funding for 25 new prosecutors and support staff for the Attorney General to prosecute violent crimes.
- $21 million in additional funding for Baltimore City and the State’s Attorney’s Office.
- A new comprehensive juvenile crime strategy to curb youth violence in Baltimore City.
- New and expanded legislation to increase tougher sentences for violent offenders who commit crimes with guns.
- New legislation to strengthen penalties for those who intimidate witnesses and legislation to make restitution mandatory.
- Legislation to publish sentencing records of judges in violent crime cases to hold judges more accountable for their sentencing decisions.
He said the Hogan administration also continues to provide “historic levels of support for Baltimore City,” noting the following:
- Since taking office, Governor Hogan has committed $6.32 billion for local aid to Baltimore City, including more than $1 billion for public safety and crime control efforts.
- State warrant teams have identified and are actively working open warrants for 493 of the most violent offenders in the City.
- The state has placed more than 400 Parole and Probation agents into the Baltimore region, and put them in every police precinct in Baltimore City.
- Governor Hogan directed the Maryland State Police Aviation Command to send 10 helicopter crews to conduct law enforcement tactical missions over Baltimore City on an ongoing daily basis, providing additional support to police officers on the ground.
- Governor Hogan launched a joint operation to send federal, state, and local law enforcement officers into the City to conduct a coordinated and aggressive surge resulting in over 3,300 arrests, including 259 of Baltimore City’s most violent offenders.
- Governor Hogan directed the Maryland State Police, Maryland Transportation Authority Police, Maryland Transit Administration Police, Maryland Natural Resources Police, and Maryland Capitol Police to establish a more visible police presence in high crime areas of the City. As a result, state police agencies have executed over 500,000 premise checks, served an additional 3,400 warrants, and recovered 158 handguns.
Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-Carroll, told MarylandReporter.com that locking up criminals is a key component to crime reduction.
“Criminals need to be locked up. In fact, what the governor has offered as far as a crime package is extremely common sense… It should be a multi-faceted approach, but a big part of it has to be locking up criminals — period.”
However, Senate President Bill Ferguson claimed the “package that we’re putting forth today calls for real accountability. It calls for smarter resource allocation and it calls for the ability of Marylanders to get illegal guns off the streets. We know what the problems are. We know the solutions can be. We must work together to solve this crisis.”
Ferguson was asked how much money the legislation would cost to implement.
“The bills are just being introduced right now, so we look forward to seeing the analysis by the Department of Legislative Services. Obviously we have to do a balanced and reasonable investment.
“At the end of the day, what is the cost of a lost life? What is the cost of hundreds of lost lives?”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, was asked how the proposal differs philosophically from Hogan’s proposal.
“We want to take a comprehensive approach that understands that we’re not just going to be looking at putting more people in jail. We have to also make sure that we’re getting people the services so that they stay out of jail and so that if they are incarcerated they get the skills that they need to come out the other side and not come back. That’s the overwhelming theme behind our plan.”
The Democrats said their proposal would provide more resources to prevent recidivism. It would mandate a statewide audit of gun crimes to find out where problems exist. It would increase penalties for possession of guns that are lost and stolen, and increase cross-jurisdictional cooperation to solve crimes. The text of the bills has not yet been released but Jones’ and Fergusons’ offices provided reporters with an emailed summary of the proposals.
Hogan’s proposal calls for $21 million in additional funding for Baltimore City prosecutors and funds for the state attorney general’s office to hire 25 new prosecutors and personnel to assist. The legislation calls for stronger laws against witness intimidation and increased penalties for illegal possession of guns.
Last year there were at least 348 homicides in Baltimore City.
A Gonzales Maryland poll released on Jan. 7 found that voters consider crime the top issue in the state. The survey of 838 registered voters found that 31% said crime is the No. 1 concern — nearly double the 16% who said that education is Maryland’s most pressing issue.