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Ganesha Martin, police department's former consent decree chief, hired as director of mayor's criminal justice office

Ganesha Martin, an attorney who spearheaded the Baltimore Police Department’s consent decree compliance efforts before quitting last year, has been rehired by the city to serve as one of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s top advisers on criminal justice issues.

Martin will serve as director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Pugh confirmed Thursday. In that role, Martin will help coordinate criminal justice initiatives and policy, act as a liaison with state law enforcement, and oversee 18 employees and $14.5 million in public safety grants for the city.

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Martin, 41, who in the past year has worked as a consultant on consent decrees in other cities, said she is excited to get back to work in Baltimore.

“There is nothing like being ground-level, because that’s where you really feel you can make a difference,” Martin said. “I hope I can bring all my experience around the country and in the city to bear to help the city.”

Pugh said she worked with Martin “night and day” during the first 60 days of her administration to get the consent decree signed, and believes Martin is “one of the best people in the country” for her criminal justice director’s position.

“She understands policing. She understands the consent decree, which is really important. She’s a grant writer. She understands programs,” Pugh said. “She’s very detail-oriented.”

Pugh said a bonus is that Martin is already familiar with Michael Harrison — the former New Orleans police superintendent who is expected to be confirmed as Baltimore’s police commissioner by the City Council on Monday — from meeting with him in the past to discuss New Orleans’ consent decree.

“We’re rounding out a team that is going to be quite impactful,” Pugh said of Harrison and Martin coming on board for the city.

Martin said she appreciates the fact that Harrison understands that reducing crime and introducing consent decree reforms are not mutually exclusive, and is looking forward to collaborating.

"The mayor has been very clear that she wants me to figure out ways to collaborate with the Police Department, and I kind of see myself as a support structure for the different initiatives that the commissioner is going to implement,” she said.

Martin is expected to start in the next couple of weeks, Pugh said. She replaces Drew Vetter, who left the post in November for a leadership role in Baltimore County. Vetter was paid $168,000; Martin’s salary was not available Thursday.

Pugh said she also expects Martin to create a more robust city plan for working with juveniles in the criminal justice system — which Martin said she was particularly excited to dive into — and to have a hand in improving the Police Department’s recruitment efforts.

Martin quit her post as head of the Department of Justice Compliance, Accountability and External Affairs Division within the Police Department in early 2018, after Pugh fired then-Commissioner Kevin Davis amid a sustained increase in violent crime.

During Davis’ tenure as commissioner, Martin had been the department’s point person on the consent decree — from implementing reforms before the deal was struck to get a head start, to negotiating the terms of the deal with Justice Department officials, to beginning the implementation of its mandates after it was signed in the waning days of the Obama administration and put into effect by a federal judge in the early days of the Trump administration.

The deal, which mandates sweeping reforms in almost every aspect of policing and department operations, was reached after the Justice Department investigated the Baltimore police after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody in 2015 and found a long-standing pattern of discriminatory and unconstitutional policing.

Before taking over the consent decree compliance office, Martin had served in other key positions in the department — including as chief of community engagement and external affairs, director of legislative affairs and chief of staff to Davis.

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Davis praised Pugh’s decision to hire Martin for the role.

“Ganesha is a collaborator who authentically understands the intersection where the cops and the community need to meet,” he said. “When I named her my DOJ compliance chief, I did so because she has the capacity and a genuine heart to do the hard work of reform.”

Before joining the department, Martin served as the assistant deputy mayor of public safety and emergency management and special assistant to former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Martin, who was raised in Dallas, holds a bachelor’s degree — double majoring in journalism and Asian studies — from Baylor University, and a law degree from Texas Tech University School of Law.

Martin’s appointment ends speculation the job would go to Anthony Barksdale, a former interim commissioner of the Police Department who retired and became a frequent critic of it. Pugh had said in December that she was considering Barksdale for the position.

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