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Baltimore’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council begins again with new goals of collaboration

Four years after it was defunded by the governor, a new Baltimore Criminal Justice Coordinating Council convened its first meeting with hopes for increasing collaboration among law enforcement agencies.

The reconvened group, made up of city, state and federal law enforcement agency leaders, plans to meet six times a year and is setting up work groups to study different areas to improve the city’s approach to public safety.

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“Our city deserves nothing less than our absolute best,” Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott told members of the panel. The mayor appeared via video chat as he was quarantined with COVID-19.

Instead of city judges, Scott will chair the meetings, and Tuesday’s meeting was held in City Hall instead of the courthouse, where meetings had been held previously.

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In fact, judges weren’t present at all for the first public meeting. Circuit Court Administrative Judge Audrey J.S. Carrión, writing on behalf of herself and District Court Administrative Judge Halee Weinstein, sent a letter in August saying they could not attend because early meetings dealt with recommending law enforcement policy.

“We, as judges, would not be able to participate,” Carrión wrote.

Officials said they are hopeful the administrative judges will play a role in the group moving forward.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan defunded the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in 2017, reallocating $275,000 in funding after city judges refused to meet with him to discuss public safety. Then-Administrative Judge Charles Peters of the circuit court said it would be inappropriate for the judges to do so. “The judiciary respects your role. But we can never, ever be seen as your ally or the ally of law enforcement,” Peters said at the time.

Hogan said that the group wasn’t devoting enough of its efforts to fighting crime. The purpose of the panel was largely to work on improving systems and developing programs. The group, which met monthly, discussed courthouse technology upgrades and organized a fugitive safe surrender program, among other things, shared data and listened to presentations from outside groups.

Tuesday’s meeting was held to vote on logistical matters as the group gets started. Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, discussed the values and culture that will guide the panel’s work.

Scott said that he wants the new group to be able to hold each other accountable — without descending into finger-pointing. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison agreed, saying he wants the body to analyze issues and bring solutions.

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