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Hogan launches 're-fund the police' effort

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Gov. Larry Hogan took aim at police reform efforts and at violent crime levels in Baltimore, as he announced what he calls a “re-fund the police” effort Friday morning.

In his announcement, Hogan criticized the “defund the police” movement that gained popularity last year and led to broader police reforms.

“Trying to reduce crime by defunding police is dangerous, radical, far-left lunacy,” he said. “The state of Maryland will not defund police, as long as I'm governor.”

Hogan linked the “defund” movement to violent crime rates in Baltimore, a frequent target of his criticisms.

However, Baltimore actually increased its police budget this year, over the objections of many reform advocates.

“Violent crime is out of control in Baltimore City. They're on pace to surpass 300 homicides again this year,” Hogan said. “The city of Baltimore is a poster child for the basic failure to stop lawlessness.”

Beneath all the rhetoric, Hogan’s announcement was about a funding boost of $150 million for law enforcement across the state.

The governor said the funding for his initiatives will come from various places. Some he will be able to allocate right away, while the rest will need to be approved by the legislature when it convenes in January.

It includes $45 million for local police departments, to be divided proportionally based on the size of each jurisdiction, and $50 million for salary boosts and hiring bonuses, to help fill police vacancies.

He announced $10 million for “neighborhood safety grants,” to cover hardware upgrades such as street lighting and cameras, as well as security services for community organizations and business districts.

The proposal includes funding for services for crime victims and matching funds for rewards that encourage witnesses to come forward.

Another $24 million will go to an “Accountability Resources Fund,” Hogan said, “which will pay for more body cams, more de-escalation training, and other critical tools for state and local police agencies.”

Body cameras and de-escalation training are both required under police reform legislation the governor vetoed in the spring. The General Assembly overrode his veto, and most of the law’s provisions take effect in July 2022.

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Will Smith, one of the leaders of the police reform efforts in Annapolis last session, welcomed the funding, but not the way the governor announced it.

“You can both embrace law enforcement and public safety and accountability measures,” Smith said. “By trying to couch the reforms that we did as ‘defund the police’ was just disingenuous and I think unbecoming almost of a statewide leader. It’s infuriating.”

Smith emphasized that the legislature did not cut funding for “any element of public safety or policing.”

He said the legislature also increased funding for violence-interruption programs — programs such as Safe Streets Baltimore — that have been proven to reduce violent crime. But Hogan didn’t mention those.

“It's easy to divide people and to distract people by using the type of rhetoric that you saw today, and the issue is so much more complex,” Smith said. “The violence interruption programs are a key component of public safety, and he completely missed that.”

The governor also neglected to mention efforts around creating opportunities for citizens returning from prison, to help keep recidivism rates low, Smith said.

Ultimately, reducing crime in Baltimore requires more than just investment in police, “whether it be prosecutors or the laws that we pass in Annapolis, holding people accountable, but also having the long view of investing in communities and ensuring that people have economic and educational opportunities to keep them out of the criminal justice system in the first place,” Smith said.

Smith’s critiques were echoed by other elected Democrats in written statements and on social media.

“Tackling violence in Baltimore requires vast coordination among state and federal partners, not tactless finger pointing,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. “I’m reminded of this fact every time a homicide victim is found wearing an ankle monitor, or law enforcement apprehends a murder suspect only to arrest them again months later for an illegal handgun.”

Scott suggested the governor turn his attention to the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees parole and probation and “remains severely understaffed.”

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones criticized Hogan for “misguided rhetoric” that is “beneath him and the dignity of his office.”

“The House stands ready to have an open and honest conversation about improving policing and reducing crime in the State once there are real ideas — not rhetoric,” she said in a statement.

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