Candidate for Baltimore state's attorney says he will cut homicides in half in 3 years

A candidate for Baltimore state’s attorney is saying he will cut homicides by half within three years of taking office.

Thiru Vignarajah, a former deputy Maryland attorney general who led the major investigations unit of the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office, introduced a five-point plan Thursday that he says can achieve the goal.

“Some will say cutting murders in half in three years is unrealistic. But in fact, we were 80 percent of the way there three years ago,” Vignarajah said in a statement, referring to the 211 killings recorded in 2014. Last year, 343 people were killed, an all-time per-capita high.

“To say cutting murders in half is out of reach is to fail to understand how far off the charts Baltimore has gone and how unacceptable the pace of killings has been.”

The Baltimore state’s attorney’s office declined to comment.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby won office in 2014, saying violence was out of control and that blame could be laid to the prosecutor’s office, which she said had failed to gain community trust. While her office has ramped up community outreach and efforts to help witnesses, the city ended 2017 with more than 300 homicides for the third year in a row. Mosby said last week that the city was “facing a new dimension of societal fracture.”

Vignarajah is one of two announced challengers to Mosby’s presumed re-election candidacy in June’s Democratic primary. Defense attorney Ivan Bates has also declared his intention to run. None of the three has filed candidacy paperwork.

Bates called Vignarajah’s plan “beyond unrealistic.” He said the state’s attorney’s office has lost nearly 100 prosecutors during Mosby’s tenure and is stocked with young prosecutors who need to be trained first.

“If you don’t train the prosecutors, then that’s just another hollow promise,” Bates said, adding that he agreed with Vignarajah’s idea about restoring a prosecution model that focuses on neighbrhood-based problems.

Vignarajah said he wants to revive the community introduced under his boss, then-State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, and seek to develop prosecution strategies across crime categories for neighborhoods. And he said the office should focus on “high-impact prosecutions of gun crimes and gateway violence,” suggesting burglaries as one area that should be prioritized.

Vignarajah’s plan calls for prioritizing the prosecution of violent gangs in Baltimore’s deadliest neighborhoods, noting large indictments that brought overnight crime reductions in neighborhoods like Barclay and Cherry Hill.

He said such large, proactive indictments have vanished from the state’s attorney’s office plans in the past three years. “We’ve done it before, we can do it again,” Vignarajah said.

Another part of his plan focuses on reinvesting in ex-inmates’ re-entry into society, saying he wants the state’s attorney’s office to convene “call-in” sessions that were a key feature of the abandoned Ceasefire program. At call-ins, ex-offenders at high risk are brought into a room and offered support services while essentially being threatened with the prospect of prosecution.

Vignarajah said his office would convene similar sessions with incarcerated inmates six months before their release, developing a “comprehensive re-entry plan for a productive return to the community.”

The final point calls for redirecting resources from prosecuting those addicted to drugs for petty offenses. He said “the failed war on drugs and policies of mass incarceration have wasted critical resources.”

“If you spend time in District Court, you will see prosecutors with numerous cases involving petty offenses that are being pursued every day,” he said in an interview. “I think there’s opportunities to redirect those victims of addiction to services they need.”

While the city has a drug court and pilot diversion programs, Vignarajah said prosecutors should be referring people charged with low-level offenses to service providers.

“I think these resource providers are anxious to have people who need their help knock on their door,” he said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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