Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Tuesday that he plans to introduce emergency legislation in January that calls for tougher sentencing for repeat offenders who commit a felony using a gun, part of a crime-fighting package to stem the violence in Baltimore and across the state.
Hogan wants to double the minimum criminal penalty, increasing it from five years to 10 years, without parole or probation. He will also propose "truth in sentencing" legislation that would require repeat violent offenders to serve their full sentences without suspension, parole or probation and stronger laws targeting gangs that would allow prosecutors to try cases across jurisdictional lines.
The legislative package comes as Baltimore experiences a surge of violence, including a record number of homicides for the third straight year.
"Truth in sentencing legislation is to get the worst violent offenders who repeatedly victimize our communities off our streets," Hogan said during a news conference in Baltimore, surrounded by local, state and federal law enforcement officials. "It is unacceptable where we have a system, particularly in Baltimore City, where repeat gun criminals are getting a slap on the wrist and then being released back onto the streets to commit yet another felony with a gun."
Hogan also announced that he has instructed state law enforcement — including the Maryland State Police, the transit police and Capitol police — to increase its presence in Baltimore.
State officers will not be policing city streets, Hogan said.
"It will be more visibility, more coordination," he said. "This is still Baltimore City's responsibility; we're not going to step on anyone's toes. We're trying to provide as much backup and support as we possibly can."
The State Police, along with 80 U.S. Marshals, will help with serving "high priority" warrants, and more than 200 state parole and probation officers will provide assistance to the city to locate offenders.
Several Democratic challengers slammed Hogan for waiting until a year before his reelection bid to address Baltimore's violence.
"After three years of his "War on Baltimore," killing transportation projects, cutting education funding, and squashing projects to create jobs, it's a little late for recycled half measures," Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz tweeted.
Last week Hogan raised concerns about Mayor Catherine Pugh's crime-fighting strategy, saying he didn't know what it was. He repeated those concerns Tuesday.
Asked whether his legislative package would include money for recreation centers, free community college tuition and other programs promoted by advocates and Pugh, Hogan said his strategy offered immediate steps to reduce violent crime, not long-term recommendations that "perhaps over decades would lower some crime."
He said he doesn't consider Pugh's push for money for educational or housing programs to be "an immediate violent crime plan or strategy."
Amanda Smith, a spokeswoman for Pugh, declined to comment. She said Pugh would respond to questions Wednesday during a previously scheduled news conference.
Earlier this summer, as the murder rate continued to climb, Pugh met with Hogan to ask for state assistance to stem the violence. He said the state has provided financial help in those efforts.
The governor then held a meeting with members of the Baltimore Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, where he raised concerns about the sentences handed down by judges.