Expressing concern that violent crime in Baltimore is not being taken seriously, Gov. Larry Hogan is stripping state funding from a city crime panel.
At a news conference Friday, Hogan accused the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of refusing "to even look at anything about violent crime." V. Glenn Fueston Jr., director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention, wrote in a letter to the council's chairman that the state is transferring all $219,000 used to fund the panel to Mayor Catherine Pugh's administration.
"If you're not going to focus on violent crime in the city, then we don't feel the need to fund it any longer," Hogan said. "We're giving all the funding to the city of Baltimore, to the mayor's office, so it can be spent to try to do something about violent crime, rather than spent for a lunch where people sit around and talk about other issues."
The move puts the council's future in jeopardy. The panel — whose members include the police commissioner, Baltimore state's attorney, three judges, the mayor and City Council president, among others — was formed in 1999 to address systemic problems affecting criminal justice in Baltimore, initially focusing on expediting the processing of criminal cases by coordinating the efforts of criminal justice system participants.
Pugh said she would use the money for her own office on criminal justice issues.
"We know the mayor's office on criminal justice is committed to reducing violence in the city," she said. "The governor has quite a bit of confidence in our ability to reduce the violence in our city. … We will make great use of the funds in that office."
Both Hogan, a Republican, and Pugh, a Democrat, have expressed concern that gun offenders are not being sentenced to longer prison terms. Hogan had sought to meet with Baltimore judges to discuss why some gun offenders were receiving suspended sentences. The judges declined to attend the meeting, citing a rule that says judges "shall not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism."
"By any measure, the mission of the CJCC is not being carried out, and its goals to reduce violent crime are not being met," Fueston wrote. "Continuing to fund the CJCC is simply not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars."
Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles Peters, who chairs the panel, called Hogan's decision "abrupt" and "unfortunate."
"The Council's many stakeholders will need to take stock to determine how best to continue the vital work of improving the efficiency of the criminal justice system in the city of Baltimore," Peters said in a statement.
Hogan met last month with members of the council, including including Pugh, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, all Democrats, as well as Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and acting U.S. Attorney for Maryland Stephen Schenning. Three judges on the panel did not attend the meeting, arguing they needed to be independent from calls for tougher sentencing.
In his letter to Peters, Fueston said the council's meeting meeting this week showed the panel was not taking violent crime seriously.
Baltimore is grappling with a persistently high homicide rate. Violent crime is up 15 percent year over year.
"[The] violent crime crisis in Baltimore City should be the top priority of the Council," Fueston wrote. "However, in the CJCC meeting held September 13, only seven minutes of discussion were initially dedicated to the violent crime reduction/prevention agenda. ... Even more concerning, the proposal to postpone further action on violent crime until October undermines the inherent urgency of the CJCC's role in developing solutions to this pressing issue."
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young was "shocked" by the governor's move, according to spokesman Lester Davis. He said Young was still processing the decision.
"We didn't know that was a move that was imminent or on the table," Davis said.
Former NAACP president Ben Jealous, a Democrat who is running for governor, released a statement criticizing Hogan's decision.
"Governor Hogan's decision to defund the Baltimore Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is entirely political and is not grounded in any real concern for Baltimore City and its residents," Jealous said. "It is the height of hypocrisy for the Governor to say the council isn't focused on crime when he has only bothered to attend one meeting during his entire time in office despite rising violence across the city."