Harrison defends crime plan after Hogan’s criticism, mayor says they’ll talk further with governor’s office

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Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

With more criticism lobbed at his five-year crime plan unveiled earlier this summer–this time coming from the governor himself, who knocked it as “status quo”–Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison this morning defended his strategy.

“It is absolutely not a status quo crime plan,” Harrison said at a press conference at City Hall, responding to questions about a four-page letter addressed to the city’s top cop and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young on Tuesday. “It outlines many things that we do not have and have not had. It talks about comprehensive strategies to reduce crime, but it’s also a five-year transformational plan. And it is a plan that we have not had for many years.”

Harrison, who was tapped for his job in January after 28 years spent with the New Orleans Police Department, announced a pair of plans in July to quell surging crime and transform the Baltimore Police Department. They feature new metrics for officers, including 10-minute response times, using data to deploy officers in focused, high-crime patrol areas and additional coordination with crime-prevention and rehabilitation programs that serve youth and returning ex-offenders.

Council members had been pressing him to release a strategy in the spring, growing impatient with surging gun violence in the first five months of 2019.

Hogan wrote in his letter Tuesday, which his office shared with reporters, that Harrison’s crime-reduction plan “takes some important steps in the right direction,” but “much of what you are proposing represents the status quo and is already being done or has been tried before.”

The governor also laid out various goals, including “getting homicides back down below 200 per year” (he noted Baltimore was last below that threshold in 2011; the city has logged 241 homicides so far in 2019, as of this afternoon), a 60 percent homicide case clearance rate (Harrison is targeting getting over 40 percent, which BPD managed last year) and that the city release quarterly data on killings, violent crime, property crimes and other categories.

The governor said his office is willing to release $21 million to Baltimore if officials commit to giving those quarterly reports to his administration and legislative budget committees in Annapolis. The city has requested the release of $7 million for technology upgrades for police, plus other relief, including help from state police with security at stadium events, more parole and probation officers, and more staff at Central Booking and Juvenile Booking.

The governor also is pushing once again for tougher sentences for violent repeat offenders, writing that they “often get a slap on the wrist and are released back out to the streets” in Baltimore. He said his administration plans to introduce legislation in the 2020 legislative session to add harsher penalties for first-time and repeat offenders using guns to commit crimes, and that Young and Harrison’s support “is crucial to getting these important measures passed.”

The mayor said this morning he would sit down with the governor’s office and the city’s representatives in Annapolis, “and come up with whatever support that we need to gather to reduce violent crime.”

Young pointed out that legislation to impose mandatory minimum sentences of five years for a first offense and 10 years for a second–opposed by criminal justice reform advocates in recent years–failed in the General Assembly last year, and said he doesn’t know if any pre-filed bills for the upcoming session just yet.

The mayor declined to respond to Hogan’s endorsement of the controversial Persistent Surveillance Systems spy plane, which BPD tested out without residents’ knowledge in 2016, and which the company’s founder has repeatedly lobbied locals to put back in the air, saying he’ll bring it back at no cost for three years.

“We urge you to implement this program immediately,” Hogan wrote.

The governor also said state police could send up to 10 helicopters to assist BPD’s Aviation Unit, commonly known as Foxtrot, to “proactively search for criminal activity or suspicious circumstances from the air.”

Young repeated a line throughout the conference, including in response to Hogan’s aviation-related demands and offers: “We’re gonna sit down with the governor’s administration, and we’re gonna go over everything that he’s outlined in his letter that we’ve read, and have a discussion.”

Asked if he felt “cornered,” politically speaking, by the release of Hogan’s letter yesterday–Council President Brandon Scott told WMAR-2 he read it via a news report, and that its delivery seemed “more about capturing political points than obtaining those goals”–Young declined.

We’re partners in this. He is the leader of the state, and we’re one of the cities in his state.”

Ethan McLeod
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