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Hogan: Public 'Crying Out' For Mandatory Minimums

Rachel Baye

Gov. Larry Hogan spent much of this week attacking the Democrat-led General Assembly for not advancing his bills aimed at reducing crime in Baltimore. On Thursday, Democratic leaders fought back.

Hogan’s latest comments came during a press conference Thursday. He accused legislators of ignoring a “crisis” in Baltimore by not voting his crime package out of committee.

“The public is literally crying out, pleading with the legislature to take these actions, but halfway through the legislative session, there’s been no action,” he said.

Hogan said the most important bill is one that increases mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving guns.

“There's no question that if you take the people that repeatedly shoot people off the streets, there's going to be less people getting shot on the streets,” Hogan said.

But Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith told The Baltimore Sun earlier this week that the bill isn’t going to get out of his committee because data shows that mandatory minimums aren’t an effective crime-fighting strategy. In response, Hogan called for Smith to step down as committee chair.

Smith addressed Hogan’s attacks at the beginning of his committee meeting on Thursday.

“While some of the draconian policies of the past have done really effective things in locking people up for generations, we now find ourselves in a position and in a situation where violent crime in Baltimore City and throughout our state is worse than ever — and, oh, by the way, we’ve destroyed and decimated generations of Marylanders, most of whom are black and brown,” he said of mandatory minimums. “I would ask the governor, if this is such a priority and if he has data to support — support for implementing new mandatory minimums, then please come down to this committee and give it to us — and present it to us, and then we can wrestle with it and have an intellectually honest conversation.”  

Other Democratic leaders also hit back at Hogan.

“We cannot just add more criminal laws on the books if the ones we have aren’t being used effectively,” House Speaker Adrienne Jones said in a written statement. “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”

Jones said she has not met with Hogan once during the legislative session and invited him to talk with her if he is concerned about his bills.

Senate President Bill Ferguson, whose district is in South Baltimore, also invited the governor to participate more actively in the legislative process.

“I would like to invite the governor any day this week, this weekend, we will cancel hearings if the governor wants to come to [Judicial Proceedings] to testify on the package,” Ferguson said at the start of Thursday’s floor session.

As to reducing Baltimore’s crime rates, Ferguson directed attention back to an executive branch agency.

“The Department of Parole and Probation had 30% of the people under its supervision who were either victims or perpetrators of the most violent crimes in the state. 30%. That is an agency that is failing,” Ferguson said.

Earlier this month, Democrats introduced their own crime package. That plan includes bolstering staffing at Parole and Probation.

Staffing levels at that department and the Department of Corrections are down because of Hogan’s budgetary decisions, said Del. Stephanie Smith, chair of the Baltimore City House delegation. At Corrections, low staffing levels have also led to millions spent on overtime.

“That's money that could be better utilized, making sure that inside people are getting the adequate services and support through the corrections system, and then also upon release are getting the supervision, the mental health resources, the referrals needed, the job training, referrals and resources,” Smith said. “There's just less people who do that good work of making sure people don't just come out better criminals with less prospects and thus much more likely to go back into a life of crime.”

Sen. Antonio Hayes, chair of the Baltimore City delegation in the Senate, said one of his bills offers another example of something the governor could already be doing to help crime fighting efforts.

The bill would take tasks that are currently the responsibility of the Baltimore Police and give them to state agencies. For example, the Maryland State Police would take over patrols on I-83 in the city.

“We have about 30 to 40 police officers — full-time, fully sworn, fully trained police officers at the Department of Juvenile Services doing intake. They're taking fingerprints. They're taking mug shots,” Hayes said. “We could find some civilian employees to fill those jobs and return our cops back to the street.”

All told, he estimated the bill could add about 70 police officers to patrols in communities.

The bill would also establish 10 high-crime micro-zones in the city with a community organizer in each.

Hayes, a former community organizer who grew up in Baltimore’s Penn North neighborhood, contrasted his tactics with Hogan’s call for tougher sentences.

“The governor's just deflecting to try to tear down other ideas that empower the communities that they serve, and going back to the old archaic policies of put them in cages, and we'll get rid of crime in our communities,” Hayes said. “That hasn't worked.”

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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