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Politics of crime heating up in Maryland

State lawmakers are set to return to Annapolis next month to debate legislation during an election year. But Baltimore’s surging violent crime is already being propelled to the center of Maryland politics.

When Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced his plan to reduce crime in Baltimore last week, Democrats pounced. Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh declined an invitation to attend the announcement. She said Hogan’s strategy offered no new ideas.

It was a popular talking point that was echoed in tweets by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who hopes to be Hogan’s Democratic challenger in November’s election, and Democratic former Gov. Martin O’Malley, whose administration employed tactics that were similar to some of Hogan’s proposals.

So, is the criticism warranted?

HOGAN INITIATIVE: Governor’s Council on Gangs and Violent Criminal Networks made up of prosecutors and police to fight gang crime.

NEW? YES

HOGAN INITIATIVE: An intelligence network to help police and prosecutors better share data across the state and with federal law enforcement.

NEW? YES, BUT...

O’Malley tweeted that Hogan’s “new intelligence network” isn't new. “It’s actually the re-establishment of something he disbanded; something that worked to reduce crime to 35 year lows.”

The Democratic former governor was referring to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, or MCAC. The so-called “fusion” center “coordinates the efforts of federal, state and local agencies to gather, analyze, and share intelligence information with law enforcement, public health, and emergency responder personnel,” according to its website. It is a part of a national network of other fusion centers that are supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

MCAC hasn’t been disbanded, but the most recent gang threat assessment on its website is from 2013. And its budget in fiscal year 2017 dropped from $4.7 million to $1.8 million. (The budget is set to go up to $6.89 million in fiscal year 2018). A Hogan official said the $1.8 million figure was an estimate published in budget documents but that the actual number for fiscal year 2017 was $7.15 million.

Still, its focus is more on protecting against terrorism, threats to public health and critical infrastructure, state officials said.

The new Maryland Criminal Intelligence Network sounds similar. It is described as a “data-sharing system that will connect state-funded operational initiatives from strategic counties and cities with 36 federal, state, and local law enforcement task forces in order to break down jurisdictional barriers and enable law enforcement and prosecutors to target entire criminal enterprises.”

But the network will be focused on “maximizing” the new state law that is modeled on the federal government’s Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to prosecute organized crime and drug gangs.

Hogan said at his announcement that the new network will supplement MCAC.

HOGAN INITIATIVE: Expanded patrols by Maryland State Police and other state law enforcement agencies in high-crime areas.

NEW? YES, BUT...

Pugh asked Hogan in July to direct state law enforcement agencies to work with city police “to assist with combating violence” by increasing their presence and enforcement at specific locations. She requested assistance from Maryland State Police, the Maryland Transit Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority. She specifically requested MTA and MdTA help at “priority bus stops, transit hubs, and Lexington Market,” and traffic enforcement at key intersections. She did not request any specific action from the state police.

Hogan acknowledged last week that some of the initiatives were formulated with the city and were already underway. A spokesman said the mayor would have been able to detail her request had she attended the announcement event.

HOGAN INITIATIVE: Assistance from Maryland State Police in serving high-priority warrants.

NEW? YES

HOGAN INITIATIVE: More than 200 parole and probation officers to track down offenders.

NEW? YES, BUT...

Pugh asked in July for an increase in parole and probation agents to support police “strategies on known violent offenders.” She also asked that the state agents “partner in regular ‘knock and talk’ initiatives for supervised individuals” in Baltimore and review cases monthly with police “on high-risk victims and defendants.”

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the initiative is new because city police removed parole and probation agents from police districts several years ago.

About 210 parole and probation officers have been shifted from a Baltimore County office and are now operating out of the city police districts, Mayer said.

HOGAN INITIATIVE: An “aggressive sweep” across the city with 80 U.S. marshals and federal officers on high-priority warrants.

NEW? YES

An official with the U.S. Marshals Service said the agency could not comment on the sweep until after it was conducted.

HOGAN INITIATIVE: Expedited demolition of vacant homes in high-crime areas.

NEW? YES

Hogan announced last year that the state would spend $75 million on demolition of vacant buildings in Baltimore over four years and provide $600 million in subsidies to encourage development. Project C.O.R.E. has chosen properties based primarily on their redevelopment potential.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dougdonovan

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