Hoping to dispel the image that Maryland's federal prosecutors are too urban-oriented, U.S. Attorney Lynne Battaglia plans to begin meetings with community leaders statewide next month to discuss crime in their areas.
In addition to county and law enforcement officials, Ms. Battaglia says she hopes to meet with ministers, housing officials, social service workers and others who have a perspective on local crime.
"We want to identify issues that we need to look at statewide," Ms. Battaglia says.
"One of the criticisms of this office historically is that we forget the state is made up of the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and a lot of counties in the central area."
She says she also is considering assigning prosecutors to areas of Maryland to strengthen liaisons with communities, and says she is looking at whether her staff should go into schools to talk to students about the criminal justice system.
State's attorneys from rural counties say they feel these ideas are positive steps that expand on efforts of Ms. Battaglia's predecessor, Richard Bennett, who worked to improve cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
"She wants to not only continue the dialogue between those people, but also reach out to the governments that enable the law enforcement people to operate and find out the concerns of constituents and county government," says Scott Patterson, state's attorney for Talbot County and president of the Maryland State's Attorneys Association.
"It's the same theme, but she's expanding on it," he says. "I think it's a very positive move on her part."
Meetings in Western Maryland communities will be among the first, Ms. Battaglia says.
Larry Kelly, state's attorney for Allegany County, says it would be the first time he can recall that Maryland's U.S. attorney has stepped beyond local law enforcement officials to meet with other individuals in the community.
"As far as the perception that federal prosecutors are Baltimore-dominated, to some extent that's realistic," he says.
"Do we need desperate assistance regarding law enforcement? I don't think that's the case, thank you very much. But I think the benefit we'll get out of it is Lynne will get to know us and be more sensitive to Western Maryland. It's a good idea."
Ms. Battaglia presented her plans at a recent meeting of the Maryland State's Attorneys Association.
"The very fact that it's Lynne helps a lot," says Dario Broccolino, the group's executive director.
As head of criminal investigations for the Maryland attorney general's office from 1988 to 1991, Ms. Battaglia was an active member of the group's legislative committee.
"She was very active, and people respected her efforts," Mr. Broccolino says.