Pugh defends approach to Baltimore crime, says she has violence prevention plan

Mayor Catherine Pugh defended her administration’s approach to addressing Baltimore crime Wednesday, saying her office has developed a formal violence reduction plan in conjunction with police.

The mayor said she has the plan in writing, but did not commit to making it available for public review. One of her top critics, City Councilman Brandon Scott, ended a hearing abruptly on Monday after saying the administration did not appear prepared to provide a collaborative crime plan.

Asked Wednesday if there is a crime-fighting plan on paper, Pugh said, “There is” but that Scott did not allow enough time for her administration to present it during his hearing.

“The violence reduction plan is a plan that is prepared by the mayor and the Police Department,” Pugh said. She said Scott could schedule a meeting during the weekly office hours she keeps for council members to ask questions.

The mayor offered no specifics about her plan. Her spokesman said the mayor and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis will decide whether to release it publicly.

Scott, chairman of the council’s public safety committee, said he called the hearing Monday to give the public access to information about a comprehensive crime-fighting plan developed across multiple agencies.

The council had called on the administration to put the plan together. Scott said such critical information should not be shared in a private meeting between him and the mayor.

“They simply don’t get it,” Scott said. “They are not serious about coordinating the plan. This is about a coordinated strategy.”

The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, co-chairman of the advocacy group Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, said Pugh should make her crime plan available for the public to review.

Foster Connors, senior pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, said “there is a disturbing attitude coming from her right now that she can handle everything, she can do it alone, others don't need to question her.”

"This is a crisis,” he said. “Let's all come together and develop a plan. If she has a crime-reduction plan, the public doesn’t know about it. BUILD hasn’t been apprised of any crime reduction plan that’s coming from the mayor’s office, or any plan to address the unprecedented surge in homicides.

“Many of us in the community would like to be engaged in that."

Pugh issued a "Call to Action" last month to attract more community engagement to develop a crime-fighting strategy.

Anthony McCarthy, Pugh's spokesman, said the administration appreciates Foster Connors' interest in being part of a solution. The mayor's "Call to Action," he said, is rallying people from across the city "to mentor children, put people to work, create responsible treatment opportunities for our addicted population, share mediation and other de-escalation techniques as well as celebrating second chances for our returning citizens."

The Rev. Donte Hickman, pastor of Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore, said violent crime — and a soaring homicide rate — are “more deeply rooted than a quick fix,” and the mayor needs some space to develop a strategy.

He said Pugh deserves credit for taking steps such as developing a plan with the Police Department, meeting with the governor and involving community members in finding solutions.

"It’s easy to apply rhetoric without addressing the root causes of the problems," Hickman said. "When I look at the dilapidation in Baltimore, it didn’t just get this way. It has been this way for the last two and three decades.”

Scott took issue Monday with a PowerPoint presentation the administration was prepared to deliver. He said the hearing was called to allow the administration to reveal a collaborative crime plan that set specific goals and established roles and a chain of command that would allow people to hold officials accountable.

Pugh said she did not know why Scott did not allow her top deputies to explain their plan Monday.

“I don’t know whether the cameras get you excited, or you had a baseball game to go to, or a flight to catch, or the bathroom to go to,” Pugh told reporters. “I don’t know what happened.”

The mayor said she was meeting with Gov. Larry Hogan at the time to talk about how to address the city’s surging violence. More than 180 people have been killed in Baltimore so far this year, about 30 percent more than at the same point last year.

Pugh said the point of meeting with Hogan was to request state help to address technology shortcomings in the city, such as expanding gunshot detection devices and equipping police cars with computers.

She said she also asked the governor to increase state law enforcement agencies’ collaboration with the city.

She noted that two consultants affiliated with the U.S. Department of Justice will be coming to Baltimore in early August after helping police in Los Angeles reduce crime. Pugh said she wanted to meet with the governor before the consultants arrived so that police could have the tools to maximize that opportunity.

Hogan said Tuesday he and Pugh were “pretty much on the same page” and called the meeting “the start of the discussion.”

The mayor, a Democrat, and the governor, a Republican, are expected to meet again in the coming weeks.

Pugh said she has met with groups including the Justice Department and U.S. Conference of Mayors to study crime reduction strategies.

“We’ve looked around the nation to see what plans are really working,” the mayor said.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a longtime council member who represents North Baltimore, said the City Council “definitely” needs to see Pugh’s plan.

"We’re working with one neighborhood after another that is asking for help,” she said. “We need to see what that plan is in detail.

“We’re in a pretty desperate place here and I have confidence that between the City Council, the mayor, the Police Department — and especially the public — we will get ourselves together and move forward as quickly as possible."

Clarke and Scott said they want the mayor to fill the director’s position in the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Clarke said that office historically has helped build collaboration across city government.

Pugh bristled at the calls to make a hire. She said she is looking for “the best and the brightest,” and “no one gets to dictate when I hire people in the city.”

ywenger@baltsun.com

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