Md. governor pushes for police 're-funding,' crime bills with $500M proposal
The biggest piece of the proposal would boost salaries, bonuses and scholarships for state police agencies
By Pamela Wood
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is renewing a push for more funding for police, tougher penalties for certain criminal offenders and more information about sentences handed down by judges.
“There is nothing more important than addressing the violent crime crisis in our state,” the Republican governor said Monday during a State House news conference.
Lawmakers in the Democrat-dominated legislature have shown little interest in the Republican governor’s initiatives, though there are signs that they may give at least some of the measures more consideration when they return to Annapolis Wednesday for their annual legislative session.
Hogan has regularly blasted Democratic leaders — particularly those in Baltimore — for being ineffective at preventing violent crime. Baltimore City experienced 337 homicides last year, the continuation of a jump in violence that dates back to 2015. More than 700 people were shot and survived last year.
Hogan said that there are “no more excuses” for lawmakers not to support his initiatives.
“The time for action is now,” Hogan said.
The Democratic leaders of the General Assembly, House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, did not respond immediately to the governor’s proposals.
Central to Hogan’s approach to fighting crime is his “Re-Fund the Police Initiative” — which subverts the “de-fund the police” calls from some activists, who have called for slashing money spent on police or abolishing departments altogether.
Hogan said the idea of cutting funding for police officers is dangerous, and that police officers are “underfunded and under attack.”
“You could not possibly have a worse time for anyone to call for defunding the police or for cutting funding for public safety,” Hogan said.
Police departments are largely funded by local governments, and few have cut police funding significantly in response to activist demands. Baltimore City increased police spending in its current budget.
Hogan’s original “Re-Fund the Police” plan, announced last October, would increase state funding for local police and sheriff’s departments, add money for raises and bonuses at state police agencies, spend money on body cameras and training for police officers, match Metro Crime Stoppers rewards and spend more on neighborhood safety grants.
Hogan plans to expand his proposal to total almost $500 million to be spent over three years. The biggest piece would boost salaries, bonuses and scholarships for state police agencies, while Hogan’s plan also would increase state aid for local police and pay for Maryland State Police barracks improvements and a new tactical services building.
Finally, Hogan would add money for victim services programs and neighborhood safety grants.
The spending plans would be included in the governor’s proposed budget for the state fiscal year that starts July 1, which is subject to scrutiny by state lawmakers. He also plans to introduce a bill to require future governors to maintain the higher level of state aid to local police and sheriffs.
When Hogan first unveiled “Re-Fund the Police” in the fall, Democratic leaders in the legislature said they would not rule out some increases in police funding. They did, however, push back against the governor’s aggressive stance.
“The House stands ready to have an open and honest conversation about improving policing and reducing crime in the state once there are real ideas — not rhetoric,” Jones said at the time.
The other two components of Hogan’s crime plan have been reviewed and rejected by state lawmakers in past years: the “Violent Firearms Offender Act,” which increases some sentences for those who use guns during crimes, and the “Judicial Transparency Act,” which would require a public report each year on judge’s sentences.
The state Senate has incorporated part of the firearms offender bill in other legislation it has passed in recent years, but the House of Delegates has rejected it.
The bill requiring reports on sentencing also has gone nowhere in past years, though Jones created a House of Delegates work group to look at the issue, signaling that there may be room for compromise. The work group is expected to announce its recommendations at the end of this month.
“Because the sentences judges impose are an important part of the criminal justice system, we must take a closer look at how information about sentencing is provided to the public,” said Del. Luke Clippinger, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement when the work group was formed in December
Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who works as a prosecutor, is chairing the bipartisan work group.
In an interview last week, Clippinger said his committee will look at sentencing issues to see whether changes could result in deterring crime. But he noted that some mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes were expanded in 2018, adding: “I don’t know that there’s been an appreciable change in gun crime since we did that.”
Hogan also said he hoped Baltimore City’s elected officials would support his proposals, though he said he hasn’t reached out to City Council members. Hogan said he hoped to get a meeting with Mayor Brandon Scott “back on the schedule” after it was canceled when the governor contracted COVID-19 in December.
Separate from his proposals to the General Assembly, Hogan said the state’s Division of Parole and Probation would start “aggressively” tracking open warrants for people who are under the division’s supervision. Hogan expressed concern that judges are not issuing warrants when requested by probation officers and that when warrants are issued, they aren’t served — though he did not offer any data.
Democratic leaders, including Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, have been pressing Hogan to improve the parole and probation system, noting that a significant number perpetrators and victims of gun violence alike are under supervision by state parole officers.
In a letter to the governor last month, Sen. Cory McCray and Del. Tony Bridges of Baltimore said the Division of Parole and Probation is understaffed, leading to inadequate monitoring of people who might be headed for trouble.
“There is no reason that there cannot be more rigorous supervision of violent offenders in the State,” the lawmakers wrote. “Ignoring the core functions of State government is having real life and death consequences.”
Ferguson, the Senate president, said in an interview last week that he’s open to considering Hogan’s proposals, given that “gun violence is out of control.”
But he noted that local, state and federal government officials need to be on the same page with a multipronged plan that both holds people accountable for crimes and addresses the root causes of violence.
“There’s no one singular solution,” he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Bryn Stole contributed to this article.
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