Violent crime increased by more than 14 percent in Baltimore County last year. As the general election race for county executive gets under way, both candidates say they have plans to improve public safety in the county.
While Democrat Johnny Olszewski was working the crowd at the National Night Out gathering in Towson Tuesday, he got a surprise slap on the shoulder from his Republican opponent for county executive, Al Redmer.
“What are you up to, big boy?” Redmer asked.
Then he offered Olszewski his congratulations for winning the Democratic nomination. Olszewski defeated State Senator Jim Brochin by 17 votes following a recount.
Olszewski thanked Redmer and added, “Good to see you.”
And there you have it, the first face-to-face meeting of Redmer and Olszewski in the general election campaign. And perhaps fitting that it came at a National Night Out, which is all about fighting crime. Republican County Councilman David Marks said he expects that to be the number one issue in the county executive race.
“There’s kind of an unsettled feeling out there and I think both county executive candidates are going to have to address how they’re going to deal with it,” Marks said.
Marks said people are realizing they don’t live in a bubble in Baltimore County. He said some of Baltimore City’s crime is making its way to the county, and that there is an increase in neighborhood crime as well.
Redmer and Olszewski chatted up police officers, sheriffs deputies and citizen patrol volunteers, and in separate interviews outlined their plans for public safety. They agree the county needs more police officers. Olszewski added he would do more to recruit and retain police. That includes supporting a property tax break for first responders, a proposal that was tabled earlier this week by his fellow Democrats on the county council.
“We have to be fiscally responsible in how we do it but I absolutely support tax credits to recruit and retain public safety officers here in Baltimore County,” Olszewski said.
However, administration officials said that is not a problem, pointing out that just over one percent of available police department jobs are unfilled. Also, the cost of phasing in such a tax credit program over three years is put at almost $13 million.
Redmer isn’t taking a stand on the tax break one way or the other.
“The issue has been decided by the county council so it doesn’t do any good to weigh in and argue about it now,” Redmer said.
Redmer said the county has not spent enough money on police. Not only are they understaffed, but Redmer said they need updated equipment and specialized training. Redmer said he’ll figure that out later how to find more money for public safety after he’s elected, and puts in place a long term 10 year budget plan for the county.
“And as we go through the priorities, obviously public safety has to be a high priority,” Redmer said.
Olszewski said what separates him from Redmer on public safety is that it’s not just about crime fighting, but is connected to other issues like schools and jobs.
“That’s the difference in this race is someone who is going to think holistically in how these issues are interrelated versus having a siloed same old approach we’ve done,” Olszewski said.
That too would cost money and it’s unclear how Olszewski would pay for things like community schools that provide a variety of services for families.
Meantime, Redmer this week picked up an endorsement from the Baltimore County Sheriff’s Union.
And Olszewski’s younger brother is a county police officer who he says keeps him informed on what’s happening on the force.