Ehrlich Gets Police Union Endorsement

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 6, 2006

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has made crime a key issue in his reelection bid, won the backing yesterday of the state's largest law enforcement union, while his Democratic challenger accused his administration of paroling violent criminals.

The Republican governor's endorsement by the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police came as he and his opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, have launched TV ads criticizing each other's leadership on crime.

Ehrlich was flanked by officers at a police lodge in Baltimore County to accept the backing of an 18,300-member union that sided with his Democratic opponent in 2002.

"This is a big deal to me," Ehrlich told supporters, several of whom wore "Police Officers for Ehrlich" T-shirts. "It's a statement by people who get up every day and put the uniform on . . . to protect us."

O'Malley made clear yesterday, however, that he has no intention of ceding the issue of public safety to the governor.

Hours before Ehrlich picked up his endorsement, O'Malley dispatched running mate Anthony G. Brown to highlight what he called a broken promise by the governor to end parole for violent criminals. At a news conference, Brown, a Prince George's County delegate, stood with members of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance, a union whose members include the Maryland State Police.

Brown pointed to statistics showing that of 99 people arrested and charged with murder in Baltimore this year, 38 were being supervised by "Bob Ehrlich's Division of Parole and Probation."

"When Martin and I make a promise like ending violent parole, we'll do the hard work needed to keep it," Brown said. "We won't stand by weakly and blame others."

He was referring to Ehrlich's remarks in recent days that Democratic lawmakers had thwarted his efforts to end the possibility of parole for certain sex offenders and assailants using guns. Ehrlich pledged in a 2002 campaign document to "end parole for violent criminals."

O'Malley took Ehrlich to task for problems in the state's prisons and juvenile justice system during a radio interview on a Baltimore station. "Governor Ehrlich takes no responsibility on improving public safety," O'Malley said. "These are state agencies."

Ehrlich also used a radio interview yesterday to attack O'Malley on crime. On Washington Post Radio, Ehrlich repeated charges that the mayor has manipulated crime statistics to exaggerate progress in reducing Baltimore's violent crime -- a charge O'Malley strongly disputes. "This really raises issues about credibility," Ehrlich said during "The Politics Program with Mark Plotkin."

Ehrlich was also critical of arrest policies in Baltimore, claiming that police were rounding up innocent people in O'Malley's zeal to make the city look safer. Since his 1999 election, the mayor has sought to aggressively enforce so-called "quality of life" offenses such as loitering. Police say this helps deter more serious crime.

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