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Democrats, Republicans talk crime in dueling press conferences

Senate President Bill Ferguson/Joel McCord WYPR
Senate President Bill Ferguson/Joel McCord WYPR

Maryland's Democratic Senators unveiled their four-part crime package Thursday and Senate Republicans followed with a swift response in their own press conference.

The dueling partisan showdown came on the heels of Governor Hogan touting his anti-violent crime package Wednesday night in his final State of the State address.

The Democrats’ package centered on what they called prevention, intervention, transparency and rehabilitation. Senate President Bill Ferguson said it isn’t about a single bill, but an all-encompassing effort to reduce violence.

“What we need is a coordinated plan at all levels of government,” he said. “And the Senate leadership is here today saying that we are putting forward the framework and the resources.”

Baltimore County Police Chief Andre Davis, who took part in the Democrats’ press conference, said afterward Maryland needs a “wraparound package” to deal with increasing crime.

“We need communication with other law enforcement agencies. We need the Health Department,” he said. “We need other agencies to really help and stronger legislation to help prosecute and put the necessary people away and provide services to prevent these types of crimes from happening.”

One piece of that is a move to ban what are known as “ghost guns.” They can be made from kits sold on the internet and have no serial numbers, which makes them impossible to trace.

Attorney General Brian Frosh said they are becoming the guns of choice for young people who can’t buy a gun without an adult and for convicted felons who couldn’t buy a gun legally.

“This is how they get guns,” Frosh said. “And there have been searches and seizures all over the country where they've busted gang members and found they've got a stockpile of ghost guns. Why? It’s the easiest way to do it.”

The Democrats’ package also contains efforts to improve behavioral health and children’s mental health services and beef up the division of Parole and Probation. It would provide risk assessments for parolees, better record keeping, raises and apprentice programs to try to fill the nearly 150 vacancies in the department.

Ferguson said they need to get more people in the division to avoid case overloads and to make sure they are properly trained.

“We’ve got to make sure that those who are reentering have the skills that they need, the educational skills, social skills,” he said. “And this is the job of Parole and Probation. They are not just an entity that is charged with checking boxes, they are a critical part of the criminal justice system.”

The Democrats agreed with the governor in his call for judicial and prosecutorial transparency to track how judges and prosecutors handle certain cases. But Will Smith, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Judicial Proceedings committee, said there may be some differences in how they do that.

“But essentially what the bill would do is allow an individual, you, me and everyone else, to have synthesized information to understand how judicial decision making is happening,” he explained. “And what's happening with the dispositions are by circuit. So, throughout the state, you'd be able to understand which jurisdictions are making what decisions and why.”

Republicans, however, dismissed the Democrats’ package as “woke, progressive ideas.”

Sen. Robert Cassilly, of Harford County, said it fails to deal with the immediate problems of repeat violent offenders being freed on parole.

“We’ve got probation agents looking out for people who are violent offenders, repeat violent offenders who have not learned their lesson and not showing any, any, any remorse for their crimes, have not proven that they’re willing to move on and readjust their lives,” he said. “It can’t succeed like that.”

Bryan Simonaire, the Senate Republican leader, said the package reminds him of a magic show.

“When the magician says look over here, look over here and don't really focus on the main issue,” he said. “And that's what we're seeing with the Democrats with their solution. They're nibbling around the edges, and ignoring the immediate and pressing needs of how to control crime.”

They argued instead for the tough on crime, tougher sentencing measures the governor has called for.

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.
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