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Crime

Top Maryland officials, including Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Attorney Erek Barron, pledge to renew violent crime fight

Standing in front of an East Baltimore park, across from burned-out rowhouses, top Maryland law enforcement officials, including Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Attorney Erek Barron, announced more initiatives to reduce violent crime.

Wednesday’s news conference, which included Mayor Brandon Scott, Attorney General Brian Frosh, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and officials from the FBI, ATF and DEA, was a public announcement about how the law enforcement partners planned to use the $3.5 million Hogan’s office awarded the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office in March.

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The funds Hogan earmarked will be used to hire for 33 positions, including 14 special assistant U.S. attorneys, as part of a newly formed violent and organized crime unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The money also will be used to hire 5 data analysts, 4 legal support staff and 10 investigators.

“Unlike any other time in the history of my office, we are going after violent offenders in new ways, and by any legal means necessary,” Barron said.

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At about the same time the news conference ended, Harrison and some of his administration officials learned of a mass shooting across town in Northwest Baltimore where one person died and six others were injured.

“Gun violence is a tragic reality in Baltimore City,” Harrison said before leaving to go to that shooting scene.

At least 234 people have been killed so far this year in Baltimore, and another 489 injured in shootings, according to police figures.

Speaking at the Tench Tilghman School Community Playground, which is across the street from Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School, officials also announced new plans to ramp up enforcement of a federal statute prohibiting firearm possession within 1,000 feet of school grounds. The statute is rarely enforced and carries a maximum sentence of five years, Barron said.

The mass shooting in Northwest Baltimore took place a block from Creative City Public Charter School, though the school year hasn’t started yet.

Hogan, speaking at a separate event Wednesday afternoon at Cafe Gia Ristorante in the Little Italy neighborhood, said shootings like Wednesday’s happen far too often.

“That’s why we’re trying to address some of these issues,” Hogan said.

Left to right, touring Little Italy: Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, Gov. Larry Hogan and Dan Sutherland Weiser, vice president of Little Italy In Baltimore (LINA). The governor walked around the neighborhood with local leaders after making an announcement about funding for crime reduction efforts.

Scott, who has cycled through outrage and frustration in the past when discussing violence in the city, struck an optimistic tone Wednesday, expressing his desire to continue working with all levels of government to reduce crime.

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“It is utterly impossible for a city to thrive when residents do not feel safe in their neighborhoods,” the Democratic mayor said. “That’s why tackling violent crime is, and will be, my biggest challenge and my top priority.”

Barron, a nominee of President Joe Biden, assumed his post last year and has made reducing violent crime a priority for his office. He said he plans to have all 30 positions in his new unit in place by October.

Special assistant U.S. attorneys are cross-designated with state agencies, and those hired under this program will be an extension of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office’s Organized Crime Unit. Ten of the prosecutors will be assigned to the U.S. Attorney’s Baltimore office and four to the Greenbelt office. The attorney general’s office will hire and supervise the prosecutors.

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“I have directed my staff to investigate and prosecute repeat violent offenders for any and all wrongdoing that meets our priorities, especially fraud,” Barron said.

Barron said about half of repeat violent offenders also engage in other crimes, like COVID-19 pandemic fraud, which he called a priority for his office.

Frosh said even though he and Hogan don’t agree on much, the money for more resources was welcome and that the pair does agree on the need to address violent crime, especially in Baltimore. Frosh also praised Scott for his efforts to address the root causes of violence in addition to beefing up enforcement actions.

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“I do have to emphasize that we’re not going to prosecute or incarcerate our way out of the violent crime problem that afflicts Baltimore City,” Frosh said.

East Baltimore resident Gary Bates, 61, has lived in Baltimore his whole life and listened to part of the news conference. He said officials always tout solutions and partnerships, but rarely do they reduce the violence.

“It’s the same song and dance,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Ngan Ho contributed to this article.

For the record

This article has been updated to correct the attribution of a quote from U.S. Attorney for Maryland Erek Barron. The Sun regrets the error.


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