Motivation Behind Crime Study Questioned
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration has commissioned a criminologist to conduct an expedited audit of Maryland crime statistics, just as Ehrlich gears up for a reelection campaign that could put a spotlight on violence in Baltimore and Prince George's County.
Police in the five largest Maryland jurisdictions were notified last month that they would be asked to contribute data for a study that would be completed by Aug. 14, less than three months before Election Day.
"A full and accurate measure of these statistics is central to our mission of assisting victims and controlling and preventing crime," said Alex Ray, a spokesman for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, which commissioned the study.
But public safety officials in several Maryland jurisdictions questioned whether the real goals of the project are political, given the expectation that if Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is the Democratic Party nominee, Ehrlich will attempt to blame him for Baltimore's persistent crime woes.
"Nothing about this study adds up," said Kristen Mahoney, a high-ranking police official who advises O'Malley, one of two Democrats vying to challenge the Republican governor in November.
The University of Maryland professor who will conduct the study said yesterday that officials in the governor's crime control office approached him with the idea, recommended the timetable and said they will pay him $340,000.
That branch of the governor's office was the target of a federal investigation during the 2002 election season in which top officials there were accused of using grant money to help bolster Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's ties to constituent groups. An indictment of the agency's director was eventually dismissed.
The latest study has brought similar questions from officials in several jurisdictions under review. Officials questioned whether Ehrlich sanctioned the project and whether it was politically motivated.
A spokesman for Ehrlich said the governor was told of the proposal as part of a routine briefing from public safety agencies. "The governor does not make any decisions on grant proposals," added Henry Fawell, Ehrlich's deputy press secretary.
Baltimore police, for one, will not be helping, said the department's spokesman, Matt Jablow.
Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) called the steep price and quick turnaround time highly unusual, based on his past dealings with the crime prevention office.
"We've worked with them on grants for crime issues for the previous three years pretty closely, and I would have expected, for a grant of that magnitude, they would have touched base with us to see if we thought it would even be useful," Ivey said. "Reviewing all the statistics on crime would be extremely difficult to do, and do a good job, in six months."