Baltimore state’s attorney candidate Ivan Bates unveiled a detailed plan Tuesday for how he’d bring down a persistently high rate of violent crime as the city’s elected prosecutor.
Touting beefed-up gun prosecution, enhanced law-enforcement cooperation, data-driven training and new diversion programs, Bates’ plan details how his administration would “prioritize removing violent offenders from our communities” and “support alternatives to incarceration.”
Bates announced the plan against the backdrop of a house in Park Heights where 24-year-old Kendal Fenwick was gunned down in 2015 for building a fence around his Northwest Baltimore property to keep illicit activity out. He was flanked by Fenwick’s family, former city police brass, a retired chief circuit judge and former deputy state’s attorney, as well as community leaders.
“We deserve better. I can do the job better so we can make our city safer so that our children can have the city they deserve and we deserve,” Bates said. “My plan addresses that.”
A prominent defense attorney and former city prosecutor, Bates is challenging incumbent State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby in the Democratic primary, the second time he’s sought to unseat the prosecutor.
Bates promises to bring back those cases not to punish those defendants with jail sentences but to connect the people to diversionary programs, such as drug court, which he argues have been underutilized. Diversion programs follow an arrest and incarceration, however brief.
Mosby has defended not pursuing such low-level offenses by presenting the argument that those prosecutions disproportionately hurt the city’s minority neighborhoods. She also says that sending people to jail for things like drug possession doesn’t help address underlying problems like addiction.
Bates contends the lack of arrests amount to missed opportunities to intervene in the lives of sex trafficking victims and drug users.
His plan focuses on addressing what he described Tuesday as a “gun crisis” in Baltimore, including by reconfiguring units within the state’s attorney’s office to address firearms cases.
The document cites a study from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, part of the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, that found that Mosby’s office dropped or indefinitely postponed more than one-third of illegal gun cases from May 2015 to May 2019.
Bates said his administration will leverage fear of prosecution in federal court, where he has “seen firsthand that sentences there act as strong deterrents” because there is no parole and prison time is often served in other states. He also plans to assign prosecutors to seek out those who sell illegal guns and make or sell ghost guns.
The defense attorney wants to augment the city’s Gun Offender Registration Act. Known in court as GORA, the program requires those convicted of gun offenses to register as a gun offender with Baltimore Police upon their release from incarceration and report to a specific police station every six months for five years to renew their registration. Bates said he’ll advocate for more supervision and monthly check-ins.
Mosby’s office says it collaborates effectively with other law enforcement agencies, but Bates disagreed and outlined steps in his plan to rebuild those relationships. He seized on tensions between Mosby and other elected and law enforcement officials, namely the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Mosby on federal perjury and false statement charges.
“This state’s attorney’s office has lost credibility, it’s lost the ability to work with others and they’re fighting,” Bates said Tuesday. “When the criminal justice partners are fighting, the criminal element is winning.”
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A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office declined to comment on points raised in Bates’ report.
Retired Chief Baltimore Circuit Judge Wanda Heard and former Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale expressed support for Bates’ prosecution plan, describing it as a well researched, multifaceted approach to address crime in the city. They said in separate interviews Tuesday that it strikes a balance between being tough on crime and helping people.
“You can’t just lock everyone up and throw away the key and you can’t just put everyone on probation,” Heard said. “You have to know how to distinguish the various types of crime and people that come before you.”
Among collaborative initiatives in Bates’ plan is the Baltimore Violence Reduction Coalition, a “multi-level, multi-disciplinary and multi-agency” process for exchanging information about all homicides and shootings to come up with preventive public health and criminal justice measures. He touts the success of similar groups in Oakland, California, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Bates intends to staff every homicide case with a veteran and junior attorney to bolster experience within the office. He also plans to secure money to hire data analysts to understand why cases are dropped and to use the answer to better train officers and line attorneys.
His plan also outlines his ideas to enhance victim and witness protection, in part, by assigning a prosecutor to witness intimidation and retaliation cases; reform the state’s attorney’s office’s juvenile program; and institute “community court” where prosecutors will review cases of loitering, trespassing and dice rolling to determine whether the defendants would best be served by doing community service or participating in a diversion program.