Legislation aims to improve public safety in Baltimore

As I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and spoken with constituents over the past few months, one theme has consistently emerged: Baltimore residents do not feel safe in their city. This theme is one that crosses income, racial, gender and social lines.

This fact, though disheartening, should not come as a surprise to our city and state political leaders. It seems that nearly every day new reporting from The Sun and other media outlets sheds light on the uptick in violent crime and incidents of irresponsible policing practices that jointly undermine public support for the city’s law enforcement. The problem then is two-fold: Residents are concerned about crime, and they have minimal confidence in the police department. As public officials, we must realize that we cannot adequately address one problem without also solving the other.

Fixing a problem as consequential as this cannot be done by one branch or level of government alone. It will require the coordination and support of elected and appointed leaders throughout Baltimore City and the state of Maryland. Together, we must identify and enact protocols that will serve as long-term solutions to the public safety crisis that has for far too long persisted in our city.

Those of us in the legislature recognize that we are not experts in criminology or law enforcement management — that, of course, is the role of trained law enforcement personnel. Accordingly, we should not be attempting to micromanage aspects of policing strategy in Baltimore. However, as legislators we hold a responsibility to ensure that state dollars are appropriated responsibly and efficiently.

For my part I have introduced a package of three pieces of legislation that I believe will assist in the effort to instill trust in the police department and maximize productivity in the department’s actions. Each of these bills has the support of the vast majority of the Baltimore City Delegation in Annapolis, and we stand united to push for their passage in both houses of the General Assembly.

HB 440 will require the police commissioner to submit a redistricting plan for police districts in Baltimore City every 10 years (i.e. shortly after each U.S. Census is completed). It will take into account demographic changes, per-district call volume trends, district response times and other factors deemed relevant by the department. Ultimately, this will allow law enforcement resources to be deployed where they are needed most.

HB 561 will mandate that a financial audit of the police department occur at least once every six years. As the department continues to grapple with issues of police overtime and seeks to identify ways to leverage additional physical and human resources, the audit will identify where funds are being utilized most and least cost-effectively. Such an auditing practice would align with the protocol that is already in place for other agencies in the city, such as the Board of Liquor License Commissioners and Baltimore City Public Schools, which are both audited by the Office of Legislative Audits.

Finally, HB 1259 will guarantee additional funding for community policing efforts throughout the city. The legislation requires that for every $5 million or more allocated to the city by the Governor’s Office for Crime Control and Prevention, at least $1 million of that grant be specifically designated for community policing. In doing so, the state of Maryland will be affirming its support for community policing, an approach that has been shown in numerous cities to reduce the prevalence of violence and build better relations between residents and law enforcement.

By themselves, these three pieces of legislation will not solve the public safety crisis in Baltimore. They do, however, represent an acknowledgment on the part of state leaders — myself included — that greater accountability and transparency are required if we are to build a better and more effective police department. I welcome the opportunity to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to see these bills enacted into law.

Cory McCray (cory.mccray@house.state.md.us) is a Democratic member of the Maryland House of Delegates, representing the 45th District, which encompasses Northeast and East Baltimore City. He is also a candidate for Maryland Senate.

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