Citing concerns about the accuracy of Baltimore crime statistics, a group of mostly Washington-area legislators, backed by Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, announced yesterday that it will introduce a bill requiring a statewide audit of police department figures.
The sponsors, who include Baltimore Sen. Lisa A. Gladden and Del. Jill P. Carter, said recent reports of questions about the city's crime statistics make them want to ensure that the figures are reported accurately and uniformly across the state. They said such an accounting is critical to proper allocation of state funding and the creation of crime-fighting programs.
"Everyone who experiences a crime deserves to know they will be treated with respect and the crime will be fully reported and investigated," said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a Montgomery County Democrat.
The Sun reported Saturday that criminologists question Mayor Martin O'Malley's use of revised 1999 figures as a baseline for his claims that violent crime in Baltimore has dropped nearly 40 percent under his watch.
"Everybody should be asking questions about what's going on in Baltimore with crime statistics," Duncan said. "There is no way we can ask people to believe things will get better if we don't even know the extent of the problem."
The bill comes as local government officials in Maryland are increasingly skeptical of the value of a similar study Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. funded. Officials from most of the five jurisdictions subject to that study have said they will not participate.
"I'm not interested in politicizing the Baltimore County Police Department," said County Executive James T. Smith Jr. "I don't plan to let any of the gubernatorial candidates or their supporters do that. ... I'm really not interested in campaign tactics at taxpayers' expense."
O'Malley reiterated his assertion yesterday that any audit, initiated by either Ehrlich's administration or Carter and Duncan, would be clearly political and would result in biased findings. Carter has frequently clashed with the mayor.
"In an election year, there is always the charge that the city isn't really making progress and the numbers are being falsely inflated," O'Malley said.
Ehrlich dismissed O'Malley's assertion that the state's audit, which is due in the month before the Democratic primary in September, is politically motivated.
"If it were just Baltimore City, he may have a point, but it's five major subdivisions," Ehrlich said. "I don't know why he's so nervous. Well, I have my suspicions."
Except in Montgomery County, officials in all of the local departments subject to the governor's audit have raised serious concerns about the purpose, timing, methodology or arduousness of that study.
Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said yesterday that her police department will not participate. She said her police chief told her that it would require too much work and that the department has never had a problem with inaccurate figures.
Howard County police have also declined to participate in the governor's study, said department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.
"While we welcome an audit by the FBI or Maryland State Police, who routinely do audits at our department, we don't feel that it is appropriate for us to participate in this project," Llewellyn said.
The mayor said yesterday that he would support an audit if there was any evidence of a "systemic problem." He said the records are public and that anyone is free to examine them.
Del. Anthony G. Brown, a Prince George's Democrat who is O'Malley's running mate and sits on the committee that would likely hear the legislation, said he doesn't object to the concept of an audit but has concerns about how one would be conducted.
Forehand said the bill, which was still being drafted yesterday, does not specify the methodology for an audit. That would be determined by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the same agency now conducting the study of crime statistics in Baltimore City and in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties.
Carter said it would not specify a timetable for the study but that she expected it could take a year or more. The study funded by the governor is due to be completed in August, just before the primary and general elections.
The governor said the audit his agency is conducting is an essential tool.
"All crime statistics should be verified. We base policy on those numbers," Ehrlich said. "Next I guess I'll get blamed for the WBAL reports the last couple of days."
WBAL-TV has reported a handful of incidents of questionable crime reporting and quoted Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm as saying that police officers are permitted to not report serious crimes, including shootings, if victims do not cooperate.
"What WBAL is reporting, obviously, is of great concern, I think, to everybody," Ehrlich said.
O'Malley said yesterday that his administration would examine the incidents revealed by WBAL-TV but that he does not believe they are proof of a policy to not report crimes. He said Hamm's comment was taken out of context. He said officers often appropriately use their discretion on whether to file a report after responding to nearly a million 911 calls a year
Hamm issued a stern rebuke of WBAL-TV's reports.
"WBAL highlighted four cases over the past five months," Hamm's statement said. "During that time, Baltimore police officers responded to approximately 600,000 911 calls."
O'Malley said he would be glad to look into such accusations of underreporting of crimes.
"When officers are not acting according to their training and departmental policies, we will correct it," he said. "One instance does not a practice make."
Sun reporter Jennifer Skalka contributed to this article.