Hogan seeks 'any kind of possible solutions' to Baltimore violence

With the number of homicides in Baltimore rising at a staggering rate, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday he will meet with Mayor Catherine Pugh to discuss how the state could help.

The governor blamed the heroin trade and lax gun-crime sentencing for driving violence that has killed 180 people in the city this year. The number dead through June was the most since 1992, when 100,000 more people lived in Baltimore.

Hogan, a Republican, ruled out sending in the National Guard or having Maryland State Police patrol city streets. He said the state has already provided the city with $64 million since 2015 to aid crime fighting and designated $50 million more to address the opioid epidemic.

"We've invested a tremendous amount of money there, more than any other place in the state," Hogan said of Baltimore during a brief interview. "It hasn't really worked."

"We're open to any kind of possible solutions that anyone wants to talk about," he said.

Hogan said the Maryland State Police were not trained or equipped "to do inner city, urban policing," but he plans to offer Pugh state troopers who could aid with investigations and crime lab work.

Hogan said he "has confidence ... in the mayor's desire to get the situation under control."

A spokesman for Pugh, a Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott recently asked the Hogan administration to send state police to help patrol Interstate 83 and state roads in Baltimore, including Reisterstown Road, York Road and Route 40. City and state police have long expressed no interest in such an arrangement, but Scott said "it's unfortunate" the governor is not open to the plan.

Scott said state police could help Baltimore police immensely, even if they're not patrolling the streets.

"This is about them coming in and doing basic things to assist the Police Department so the Police Department can focus on violent crime," said Scott, chairman of the city council's Public Safety Committee.

Since Monday, eight people were killed by gunfire in the city, including the brother of the Police Department's chief spokesman, T.J. Smith. Police officials called a news conference Thursday to announce that they had charged a suspect, Terrell Gibson, 21, in the killing of 24-year-old Dionay Smith.

Top police officials reiterated during the news conference that the department does not have enough officers on the street. While the agency is staffed at one of the highest per capita rates in the country, it is also down several hundred officers from just a few years ago. That doesn't take into account officers on suspension or other types of leave.

Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere said police were considering how to deploy officers for the remainder of this month, including requiring patrol officers and detectives to work 12-hour shifts, rather than their usual 10-hour shifts, and sending every capable sworn officer to the streets.

Police used that strategy for a week last month after six people were killed and two were wounded over two days. Palmere said police had an "uneventful" week in terms of crime during that special deployment.

"We need to be able to sustain an enforcement effort and omnipresence in the field through the remainder of the summer," he said. "All options are on the table at this point."

As police consider those options, Commissioner Kevin Davis said he welcomed Hogan's plan to meet with Pugh. Davis said he expected the two politicians to have a "productive" conversation about potential technology enhancements that would help city police fight crime. He cited new mobile data computers being used in the northwest and northeast police districts as an example of such technology.

"The governor is genuine in his effort to help Baltimore," Davis said.

Hogan linked the city's violence to the statewide drug and alcohol overdose rate, which has more than tripled since 2010 as heroin laced with deadly fentanyl flooded the market. Last year, the city accounted for a third of all overdose deaths in the state.

On Thursday, Hogan said the "heroin problem" in the city "is responsible for most of the crime."

He also went on to blame gun crime prosecutions, citing statistics compiled by Davis that show most people arrested for gun crimes receive suspended sentences.

"Probably one of the biggest parts of the problem is that 60 percent of all of the people that are arrested and charged and prosecuted for committing crimes with guns in the city are let out into the streets. They don't serve time," Hogan said. "It's the same people committing the same kinds of crimes over and over. It's a problem, not with the policing, but with the state's attorney's office and with the court system."

A spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby dismissed Hogan's characterization that lax prosecution contributed to the violence.

"Finger pointing will not solve our city's issues with violence; it will only get in the way of developing real solutions," spokeswoman Melba Saunders said in a statement. "Every day our attorneys advocate for the strongest sentences allowed by law in cases of violence; however, as prosecutors we do not impose sentences handed down by the courts."

The governor said the state didn't need new mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.

"We've got enough laws on the books. They just aren't enforcing them," Hogan said. "We've got to get better judges making tougher sentences and using the laws we currently have."

A spokesman for the Maryland Judiciary declined to comment.

Several major U.S. cities also are enduring a surge in gun violence. In Chicago, for instance, President Donald J. Trump announced last week he would send more federal ATF agents to help stem violence. In the five days following that announcement, 102 people were shot — 15 of them killed — during the long Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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