By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
A hearing to address violence in Baltimore held in Annapolis this week featured a litany of accomplishments related to new programs aimed at curbing crime. But it was unclear if the discussion between legislators and city officials would result in any new legislation during the upcoming session.
The hearing was convened by State Senator Bobby Zirkin, who characterized the recent surge in violence as troubling.
“The violence is in a proportion I haven’t seen,” Zirkin said. “No one bill is going to cure what’s going on.”
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby discussed in detail what they were doing to combat another record year of mayhem which has put the city’s per capita homicide count well above the far more populous New York.
Speaking for nearly an hour, Pugh provided an in-depth, and at times somewhat rambling, account of a variety of city programs and initiatives that she said were part of her overall crime plan. Among them: installing more street lights; providing wrap around services for the city’s homeless; more city sponsored youth jobs and reentry assistance for residents returning from jail.
“I certainly did not campaign without a plan,” said Pugh, “I think that we have taken a holistic approach”
Pugh also argued the police department was understaffed, noting that the number of sworn officers has dropped significantly over the last five years.
“This police department has been under invested for a long time,” Pugh testified. “There was a time when we had almost 3,000 police officers and today we had about 2,200,” she said.
She also touted a recently proposed tax credit for police and firefighters to encourage them to move into the city, and a just passed gun law that would require a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a firearm near a school, church, or government building.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis focused in part on the uptick of juvenile crime, noting that roughly 1,100 juveniles had been arrested thus far in 2017. However, Davis argued the city needed to make a distinction between teens who commit minor crimes and youth involved in more violent and destructive behavior.
“Nearly 90 percent of juveniles charged as adults end up back in juvenile courts, that requires a discussion,” Davis said.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said the number of caseloads were an issue for her agency, particularly in the homicide division where prosecutors are overwhelmed.
“The national average a prosecutor should be dealing with is approximately 20 cases,” Mosby said, “My prosecutors on average have about 54.”
Despite the high caseload, Mosby said her office has won convictions in 81 percent of the murder cases tried this year.
Looming over the hearing was a report by the Baltimore Sun that the Justice Department would not pursue civil rights charges against the six officers charged but later cleared in the death of Freddie Gray. The announcement means that the criminal phase of the case is over.
Last week the city scheduled administrative hearings for five of the six officers starting in October. The hearings are part of the department’s internal disciplinary process.
The officers requested what’s known as a ‘trial board’ after an independent investigation by the Montgomery County police found they had violated departmental policy during Gray’s arrest. Investigators recommended that Lt. Brian Rice, Officer Caesar Goodson, and Sgt. Alicia White face termination.
The administrative trial of Goodson, the driver of the van in which Gray suffered fatal injuries, is scheduled for Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. Lt. Brian Rice’s trial is Nov. 13-17; Sgt. Alicia White’s is Dec. 5-11, Officer Garrett Miller’s is Dec. 18-19, and Officer Edward Nero’s is Dec. 20-21.