In advance of the primary election, The Baltimore Sun editorial board conducted interviews with top candidates for several positions in the city and state to help inform our political endorsements. Here are excerpts from our conversation with Democrat Ivan Bates, the presumptive winner in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s race.
On “progressive prosecutors,” who proclaim they won’t try certain low-level, nonviolent offenders:
When you’re looking at the criminal justice system, the focus and purpose must be to hold people accountable. I think we just have to redirect how we hold people accountable. I think when progressive prosecutors go out and say what we’re not going to do, that sends a message to the community that they’re not going to prosecute. For me, my whole focus going in Day 1 must be illegal hand guns, and it must certainly have consequences. … You hold violent repeat offenders accountable, but also low level individuals — misdemeanor handguns, simple possessions. I’m not here to throw you away, but you will go to jail. And after jail, then we sit down and look at the real issues.
On the issues many offenders, particularly young people, are facing when they commit crimes:
I found out as a defense attorney, a lot of these young kids can barely read or write; school systems failed them. So we’re setting them up for failure, and once in the criminal justice system, it’s hard to get out. And that’s why I think about things in another way as well, another dimension. One, as a prosecutor with handgun possession convictions, I will ask these individuals to be on the literacy programs because a number of them don’t have their high school GED … No. 2, state delegation brought $2 million to Baltimore City for job training. We want to make sure that money is given and used toward individuals in the community, in the criminal justice system to help turn their life around. And No. 3, the mayor has put a lot of money in trauma informed care. I want to make sure these individuals get that to help their thought process. [If they] change their mindset, have a job, and work on getting their GED, we [have now helped] them not become repeat violent offenders.
On not saddling people with lifelong criminal convictions:
We also are able to sit down and say, after three years, no new convictions, I’ll bring you back, give you a [probation before judgment] and help you expunge your record to get you out of the criminal justice system. … I’m not trying to prosecute everybody. It’s about accountability. For instance, drug possession … I want to direct these individuals [to] not necessarily prosecution, but drug treatment, inpatient drug treatment. The money’s there, and the court system is not being used properly. Loitering, trespass and shooting dice. Well, I’m not trying to prosecute those individuals, but I have to hold them accountable … so that means first time … there’s a warning. Second time these individuals may be loitering or trespass, the officer can give them a citation. And that will bring me [to] what I want to establish: community court. That means community service in the neighborhoods, if they want to trespass or loiter. However, if they want to habitually loiter, and trespass and no longer follow the law, they’ve asked to be prosecuted, we’ll have to hold them accountable.
On the office’s approach to sex workers:
[We’re] not trying to prosecute the sex workers. … I would like to have the police department … approach the sex workers and combine them with individuals who are … advocates, so we can sit these the sex workers down to find out they’re being sex trafficked and what services they need. … We must bring these individuals to a safe place that they feel comfortable talking about what’s going on. If you look at what’s going on now, the dark web, Baltimore City is now becoming a larger hub for sex trafficking. And our whole focus is the sex traffickers.
On the biggest challenges he’s facing in the State’s Attorney’s Office:
It has to be the staff. … There are about 200 positions right now you have about … 135 individuals [in the office]. One of the things that I’ve learned in having my own practice and working with young lawyers, law clerks and attorneys, it’s difficult, it takes about five years to go from not knowing anything to building up to prosecute cases, you can’t rush that process. So, initially, what I need to do is recruit former prosecutors to come back. A number have reached out and say they do want to work. We have to build an immediate bridge over troubled waters right now. Once we … bring them back, it has to be all hands on deck, which means if you’re an assistant state’s attorney or you’re a deputy or you’re the state’s attorney, you must try a case. … I will try a murder case, that’s very important. But every single deputy will try cases as well, because you have a lot of young prosecutors who are overwhelmed. Once young prosecutors are overwhelmed, they lose their confidence. Once they lose their confidence, they lose their focus, they’re not prepared. We have to show the young prosecutors how to thoroughly prepare their cases, from the very beginning to the end.
How he plans to prepare young prosecutors:
[We’ll partner] younger prosecutors with the senior prosecutors. For instance, a misdemeanor prosecutor can sit next to a homicide prosecutor or a deputy doing a homicide to sit and just learn to understand what that process is like, understand the preparation. But I also have to prepare long term. The University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, I will go to [their law] schools. … I’ll tell them: if you want to be a trial lawyer, come work with me. And Year 1, your first year in law school, come volunteer, see what’s happening. Year 2, you’ll be a paid intern, you’ll break down body camera body camera footage, understand how the system works. And Year 3, you will write briefs and motions that those prosecutors will use to argue suppression issues with the defense. … Now they’re prepared, on a trajectory to be a trial lawyer a lot quicker and a lot sooner.
On why he’ll be more successful at pulling people into the office and retaining them than the incumbent:
Because of, above all, the reputation I have with the prosecutors and former prosecutors. They respect me, they support me. Also … I understand what to do having built a practice. … I allow my associates the freedom to learn to do the things that they need to do in their space. I’m very supportive of my prosecutors, of my attorneys who work with me. That means if you’re trying a case, and the judge is holding you there until 6 or 7 [p.m.], your supervisor will be there in a courtroom with you, so you’re not walking home in the dark by yourself. It’s those little things that are very important. I preach “team, team, team.” It’s hard to build a team. But once you build it, you can be successful.
On working with police:
Day 1, I’m going to the police roll call to look the officers in the eye to say, “Hey, we’re on the same team, we must do this together. We need to go ahead and do constitutional policing the proper way, but we have a support team who will be here with you. And we will learn together and grow together. But we must engage the community in a way that they have not seen.” My first my goal is, in the first 30 days, to go to every single roll call, look every single officer in the eyes. What I’ve learned with leadership, when you’re in the trenches with the troops, that’s the type of leadership they’re going to respect. When I was in the army, the best leader I’ve ever had was my sergeant major who fought in Vietnam. And I asked him a question, “Why does everybody respect you?” And he says, “because I was in the war, I understand what we need to do to survive.”
On representing police officer Alicia White against manslaughter charges in connection with the death of Freddie Gray:
That was difficult. You know, I’m a Black man who’s dealt with police violence. And I’ve dealt with police issues. … The one thing you’re going to know about me, I’m going to make the right decision for the right reasons. … I represented Sgt. Alicia White because I felt in the end, that this was a criminal justice system that didn’t see her as a person, but saw her for wearing a blue uniform … and the police respect me because I did that. But now the community, I think, respects me because I did play a role in … exposing the corruption of the Gun Trace Task Force. I’m very well rounded. I understand the system, having been a defense attorney and a prosecutor, and I feel I’m perfect for this job at the moment that we’re in right now in our city.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.