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Baltimore chosen for federal crime-fighting program after being shut out previously for immigration policy

Baltimore has been selected to participate in a federal law enforcement initiative targeted at lowering violent crimes — a program it was shut out of previously because of a Maryland immigration enforcement policy.

The city was listed Monday among 10 locales selected to join the National Public Safety Partnership initiative, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.

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“The Public Safety Partnership is a successful program that directs federal law enforcement resources to the cities where they can have the greatest impact,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “These resources help police departments to diagnose where crime is highest — and why — and to find, arrest and prosecute criminals.”

The Justice Department created the program in response to President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order charging the agency with leading a national effort to combat violent crime.

According to the release, the program provides a “framework for enhancing federal support of state and local law enforcement officials and prosecutors as they investigate and pursue violent criminals, specifically those involved in gun crime, drug trafficking and gang violence.”

Baltimore city officials were invited to apply for the program the year it was introduced. However, federal officials later said Baltimore would not be eligible for consideration if the city failed to implement an immigration enforcement policy at a jail it did not control.

The policy would have required the Baltimore city jail, which is run by Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, to hold people who are suspected of immigration violations for up to 48 hours after they’re scheduled to be released. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said at the time that policy could be considered an unlawful detention under the Fourth Amendment.

Then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later promised Sen. Chris Van Hollen in April 2018 that he would reconsider why Baltimore was excluded from the program. Sessions resigned at the president’s request in November.

Justice Department officials said Baltimore’s application this year included a certification from Frosh’s office that Maryland was in compliance with federal immigration requirements, something that was not included in last year’s application.

Frosh’s office said it only issues guidance for state agencies and that it made no agreement with the Justice Department in regards to a two-day holding policy at state-run institutions.

Maryland correctional services have not altered how it works with immigration officials since Baltimore was first rejected from the program, spokesman Gerard Shields said Monday. Correctional officials will notify immigration officials when certain individuals are being released, but will not hold anyone on behalf of ICE, he said.

To be considered for selection, cities such as Baltimore also had to demonstrate a sustained level of violence that far exceeded the national average and a commitment to reducing crime. Baltimore has struggled for years to squelch a soaring homicide rate that has devastated families, children and neighborhoods across the city.

“Violent crime in Baltimore, especially gun crime, takes far too many lives and undermines our ability to educate our children and build thriving businesses,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert Hur said in a statement. “Federal, state and local law enforcement are united in our commitment to get guns and violent criminals off our streets and to reduce violent crime in our neighborhoods. All hands are on deck to make Baltimore safer, and the technical assistance available to Baltimore as part of the Justice Department’s Public Safety Partnerships will be crucial to our efforts.”

The program comes with a three-year commitment, a strategic site liaison, an annual customized training symposium and other tools that are aimed at helping Baltimore police enhance violence reduction strategies, according to the Nation Public Safety Partnership website.

Other locales selected were Anniston, Ala.; Oxford, Ala.; Anchorage, Alaska; Davenport, Iowa; Wichita, Kan.; Baton Rouge, La.; Cleveland; Amarillo, Texas; and Harris County, Texas.

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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