Amid violence, Pugh seeks state help for Baltimore

As her city deals with a record-setting homicide rate, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh on Monday held a strategy session with Maryland's governor on how to address violence.

Pugh told reporters she presented Gov. Larry Hogan with an array of ideas, including increasing collaboration between state probation officers and city police to ensure violent parole violators are sent back to jail. The mayor said she suggested Hogan lend officers from the Maryland State Police, the Maryland Transit Administration and the Maryland Transportation Authority to help bolster the city police force.

"We want to focus on those areas where violence is at its highest," said Pugh, who said she asked for the meeting in Annapolis. She did not offer an estimate of how much her requests would cost, nor details on how they would work. Pugh said she plans to meet with the governor again in the coming weeks to discuss funding for her ideas.

Hogan administration officials issued a statement describing the meeting as "a very informative, frank, and productive discussion."

Meanwhile, one of Pugh's top critics in Baltimore skewered her for what he called the lack of a comprehensive strategy to reduce violence.

City Councilman Brandon Scott convened a hearing Monday evening of the Public Safety Committee, ostensibly to take testimony on a resolution asking city agencies to coordinate on a comprehensive violence reduction strategy.

But Scott abruptly adjourned the meeting before any testimony was given, noting a PowerPoint presentation offered by the administration was not the collaborative crime plan he demanded.

Scott said there are articulated, well-designed plans for all sorts of things in the city — such as bike lanes and planting trees — and there should be one for crime with specific goals, clear chains of command and designated roles for city departments that would hold people accountable for crime.

"That's what we're asking for. We're not asking for a PowerPoint," Scott said. He said the crime fight "should not fall solely at the feet of the police department or the police commissioner."

Scott said the committee would reconvene when city officials had a strategy to offer.

Pugh responded that if Scott would like to discuss her crime fighting strategy, her door is open to City Council members from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays.

After her meeting with Hogan, the mayor, a Democrat, said she asked the Republican governor to support legislation in next year's Maryland General Assembly that would impose tougher sentences for carrying illegal guns in Baltimore. Pugh said Hogan also offered ideas to tackle violence in the city, where 183 people have been killed this year — a pace nearly 30 percent higher than the same time last year.

Aides to Hogan declined to elaborate on the governor's suggestions.

Pugh also said her administration has weighed bringing federal consultants from the Department of Justice to Baltimore. She said the consultants had developed strategies to reduce violence in Chicago and Los Angeles. And she floated the idea of upgrading crime-fighting technology to integrate systems that detect gunshots with the 911 call center and installing license plate readers on patrol cars.

A majority of the City Council co-sponsored the resolution that led to Scott's hearing, and many of the city agencies that reviewed it expressed strong support for it.

After the meeting, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he agrees the crime fight must include judges and the other city agencies. He said Pugh inherited a government of "siloed city agencies," and is working to build coordination.

Pugh's handling of violence in the city has provoked scrutiny from some city leaders, particularly Scott, who has questioned why the mayor left vacant a job some consider crucial to effective crime fighting.

Pugh took office late last year and has not named someone to lead the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, an office some of her predecessors used to coordinate city resources. She had said on June 2 the post would be filled within 30 days. Davis said he expects the candidate search to conclude soon.

Pugh dismissed Scott's concern about quickly filling the post, saying she was looking for the right candidate.

Hogan has said he's open to "any kind of possible solutions" but deferred to Pugh on day-to-day management of the crime fight in Maryland's biggest city.

Baltimore violence is a likely to be an issue in the campaign for governor, and one of the Democrats vying for their party's nomination seized on the topic Monday.

Former NAACP president and Democratic candidate Ben Jealous said Hogan could have done more during the past 21/2 years to address the systemic causes of violence, including investing more in transit and city schools.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said partisan bickering did not help the crisis.

"It's unfortunate that anyone would use the bipartisan collaboration between the state and the city in response to this violence as an opportunity to score political points," Mayer said.

Previously, Hogan has ruled out dispatching state police to patrol city streets, saying they lacked training to do "inner city, urban policing" but said troopers could help with investigations or crime lab work. Scott had asked Hogan's staff if troopers could patrol some state-owned roads in the city.

City officials said some of the coordination called for in Scott's resolution is already taking place, particularly in the city's "Transformation Zones," which were announced in four high-crime areas in February. It was the Transformation Zones that Davis and others at the hearing were prepared to discuss.

The zones — one each in East, West and Northwest Baltimore and one where the Southern, Southwestern and Western police districts meet — were established in areas where homicides, nonfatal shootings, burglaries, car thefts, and reports of gunfire and armed people are common.

The model was meant to provide the zones with resources from many of the agencies listed in Scott's resolution. A previous hearing on the resolution was adjourned without a vote so progress in the zones could be assessed.

Outside City Hall after the hearing ended, Davis said the Transformation Zones just began operating in April, and are starting to show promise — though crime rates have not necessarily fallen.

In Annapolis, Pugh told reporters she wanted to focus resources into areas with the highest violence, and she hoped some state resources could be in place by August. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Pugh said she hoped better collaboration with the state comes sooner than that, especially when it comes to locking up violent parole violators.

"We found that in our data, that many of the individuals involved in violent activity are either on parole or recently released," she said. "They are people who are creating violence in our city who should be back in jail."

Push said she left her meeting with Hogan having secured the governor's support.

"I came away with a commitment that we'd work together to collaborate to reduce violence in the city of Baltimore," she said.

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