Gov. Larry Hogan attended an afternoon roll call for Baltimore police officers on Thursday to voice his support for them and the department, saying, “We’re going to have your back.”
“I just wanted to let you know that people are out there [who] are on your side,” Hogan told four police officers standing at attention before him at the district police station. “We've got some issues, obviously, that we have to clean up in the department, and a couple guys are trying to give a bad name to the rest of you. I know the rest of you who are out here [are] honest, hardworking people who do an incredible job for the city.”
The comments came in the wake of the convictions last month of two Baltimore police officers — one sergeant and one detective — on charges they robbed citizens, filed false court paperwork and made fraudulent overtime claims. The federal trial of the two Gun Trace Task Force officers featured testimony from several other members of the unit who had previously pleaded guilty in the sprawling federal case, in which officers admitted to stealing guns and drugs for resale on the streets.
The corruption case came amid broader scrutiny of the department, too, after the U.S. Department of Justice found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing in the department as part of a sprawling investigation that concluded in 2016.
The city and police department are under a federal consent decree that mandates reforms as a result.
At the police station Thursday, Hogan said his administration has always and will always support the good officers serving the city.
“We’re going to support your commissioner and all of you, every single one of you, any time,” he said. “We're going to have your back.”
Hogan said he was already in Baltimore talking to others in the community about overdoses after testifying before Congress on Thursday morning about the opioid crisis, and decided to stop by the station as well.
“This was not a major planned media event, it was simply to come by and say thank you to the guys who put their lives on the line every day,” the governor said.
Capt. Jarron Jackson, a police spokesman, said the four officers at the roll call did not make up the district’s entire deployment Thursday evening. He said other officers scheduled on the shift and working overtime were already deployed at the time of roll call. He declined to provide the total number of officers working.
As Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh asks Gov. Larry Hogan for $10 million to fund a new anti-crime program, the Roca program, some in the city's House delegation are questioning whether it is the best strategy.
The department is struggling to fill shifts, and routinely drafts officers working day shifts to continue working into evening shifts. It also is spending about a million dollars a week on overtime.
Commissioner Darryl De Sousa made note of the staffing shortfalls as he stood alongside Hogan, saying the department is working hard to move more cadets through the training academy.
“Stand tall. Help is coming,” he told the officers before him.
Hogan, a Republican, has criticized the city’s response to crime in recent months, though he also has stood alongside Mayor Catherine Pugh to announce hundreds of arrests in the city as part of a targeted warrant apprehension initiative.
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After addressing the officers, Hogan said he is pleased with efforts in Annapolis to bolster the officers’ efforts in the crime fight. A bipartisan crime bill that incorporates some of Hogan’s proposals and others from Sen. Bobby Zirkin, the Democratic chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, and is set to pass in the Senate would stiffen penalties for gun crimes and increase funding for anti-violence initiatives like Safe Streets, among other measures.
Hogan, who was a supporter of former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis before Pugh fired Davis in January amid continued high rates of violent crime, said he also supports De Sousa — calling him “an excellent appointment” by Pugh.
“We've had a chance to get to know each other recently, a number of times, and I'm very impressed with Commissioner De Sousa,” Hogan said.
Hogan also said his past comments about the mayor’s holistic approach to crime — including in December, when he suggested her ideas fell short of what was needed — had been “misinterpreted,” and that he believes he and the mayor want the same things.
“I wouldn't say I was critical of the mayor. I think that was misinterpreted. We were talking about two different things,” he said. “I wanted to focus on immediately getting the violent criminals off the streets that are committing so many of the murders, and she talked about long-term solutions to crime, and we both want to do both.”