By Brian White
Maryland’s governor would have expanded powers to declare a violent crime emergency under a measure proposed March 3 by Senate Republicans in a bid to curb Baltimore’s high homicide rate.
Baltimore had 348 homicides last year — the fifth straight year of more than 300 killings — making it the city’s most violent year ever per capita. In January, 12 people were shot, five of them fatally, in eight separate weekend shootings.
The bill would create a threshold of violence when a local homicide rate reaches at least three homicides a month per 100,000 residents in a jurisdiction. In Baltimore, that threshold would be met when there are more than 18 murders in a month, supporters of the bill said.
Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Republican who is the Maryland Senate minority leader, talks to reporters about a measure he supports to expand the governor’s powers to fight violent crime in Baltimore on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 in Annapolis, Md. Sen. Stephen Hershey, the Senate minority whip, is standing right. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
Once the threshold is met, the governor could declare a state of emergency and steer emergency resources and law enforcement to the jurisdiction. The measure would enable the governor to appoint additional prosecutors to handle cases brought by state law enforcement.
Baltimore’s crime problem has prompted Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and Democrats who control the legislature to propose legislation to try to address the problem.
Hogan has criticized the General Assembly for not acting on his package of measures aimed at reducing crime. He has proposed tougher penalties for witness intimidation and for people who use guns to commit violent crimes.
Democrats, who control the legislature, have proposed a package of their own to fight crime and its root causes, including closing loopholes in current law related to illegal firearms.
“The citizens of Baltimore don’t have the luxury of waiting for the legislature to compromise,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings, the state Senate minority leader. “Something has to be done now to restore law and order in Baltimore.”
Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said all ideas to cut violent crime will be considered and debated. He said lawmakers will take every idea seriously.
“I look at it in the light most favorable toward solving problems,” Ferguson said, adding: “We welcome their ideas. I think we’ve just got to figure out what is the right balanced approach to invest in communities to create real peace and safety.”
Democrats have proposed requiring a staffing plan to eliminate vacant positions in parole and probation, juvenile services and corrections to prevent recidivism. They also have proposed working with the governor’s administration to support more resources for prosecuting the most violent offenders, particularly gun offenders.