Baltimore officials on Tuesday pressed a panel of Maryland lawmakers for additional tools to address the city’s soaring murder rate, asking for stiffer penalties for gun crimes, stricter accountability for juvenile offenders, a right to appeal acquittals under special circumstances and additional money for police technologies.
At a hearing with the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and members of the city’s legislative delegation, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called gun violence “the most important public-safety issue facing our city and state,” saying that “premeditated murders rule the day in our city.”
So far in 2017, 245 people have been murdered in the city, compared to 2014 at the same time last year, Davis said.
The hearing, which took place in a packed auditorium and included testimony from Davis, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, lasted hours.
It came two weeks after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) met with Baltimore officials to discuss the city’s crime wave and pledged to push for “truth in sentencing” legislation next year to strengthen guidelines for punishing repeat violent offenders.
Mosby said Tuesday that she is working with the governor’s staff to propose new rules.
Hogan has said judges too often waive jail time for individuals with multiple violent-crime convictions and place them on probation instead.
Pugh, who attended Hogan’s summit last month, expressed similar frustration with judges after that meeting, saying she wants to see them “do what they need to do to keep repeat offenders off our streets.”
On Tuesday, Davis said lawmakers should rethink the state’s juvenile-justice policies, saying the city has seen a large increase in the number of young offenders who are eligible to be charged as adults but end up in juvenile court. He said the rate increased from 39 percent in 2014 to 71 percent last year.
Mosby raised similar concerns, saying that “violent youthful offenders have to be held accountable.” She said her office will propose legislation to expand the state’s ability to compel witnesses to testify in juvenile cases and limit the number of times young offenders can be sent to juvenile court when they are eligible to be charged as adults.
The state’s attorney also said prosecutors should have the right to appeal not-guilty verdicts for gun cases in which a trial court has allowed defendants to suppress evidence. Such rules are currently in place for crimes of violence and drug trafficking, she said.
Sen. Delores Kelley (D-Baltimore County), vice chair of the Senate judicial committee, cautioned against the idea of prosecuting more juveniles as adults.
“I worry a lot when I hear any of you, and I know you have a tough job, talking about a one-size-fits-all response to juvenile crime,” she said. “I do believe the judges are right to answer back that every defendant needs to be considered with the particulars related to their situation.”
Davis asked lawmakers to provide more funding for street cameras, license-plate readers and gunshot-detectors to help monitor the streets, along with a mobile crime lab, upgrades to police stations and programs to help former inmates return to society, among other resources.
Mosby told the panel she needs additional funding to hire more prosecutors and keep up with the growing number of crime victims and witnesses who need to be relocated for their safety.
Pugh said she has taken a “holistic approach” to dealing with the crime surge, noting that she helped develop plans to improve police-community relations, worked closely with federal authorities to step up investigations and authorized the police department to hire more than 100 additional officers, but is also expanding summer jobs programs for youths, increasing addiction treatment and allowing high school graduates to attend community colege for free starting in 2018.
She said that “making Baltimore safe is not just about what we do with policing.”