What the next governor can do to help fight Baltimore crime

Maryland’s governor can’t fix the dysfunction that has gripped Baltimore’s police department. He can’t lead it through federally mandated reforms or set a strategic direction in the fight against crime. But a governor who makes public safety in Baltimore a top priority can be of enormous help in reducing the violence that plagues the city. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley was deeply involved in the issue, having carried his focus on crime from City Hall to the State House. And particularly in the last two years, since Mayor Catherine Pugh took over, Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration has reanimated the kinds of efforts that have worked in the past, such as greater coordination between city police and state parole and probation agents; the strategic use of state troopers to free city officers from things like traffic enforcement; and coordinated warrant sweeps. In recent interviews with The Sun’s editorial board, Mr. Hogan expressed a willingness to do more, and so did his opponent, Ben Jealous. Mr. Hogan mentioned the idea of recruitment and retention bonuses for city officers. Mr. Jealous suggested setting up specialized courts to prosecute those associated with gun crimes and a major expansion of Safe Streets, the anti-violence program, beyond the handful of neighborhoods where it now operates.

But the city has a specific wish list of relatively modest investments the state could make that would help make the police department more effective in protecting the public. Here are some of the highlights:

  • A staffing study the department conducted as part of its compliance with the city’s federal consent decree found significant shortfalls in the number of officers in the patrol division. In order for officers to have the time to conduct community-focused policing and not simply respond to calls, the division would need hundreds more officers. Part of that is a management issue, but part of it reflects a downsizing of the department that occurred under previous administrations. The report suggests a solution that could get experienced officers on the streets immediately: Hire more civilians to take over administrative duties now being handled by sworn officers. The city estimates that hiring 100 civilians or retired officers for these jobs would free up 117 current officers for patrol. Doing that would cost about $9 million.
  • Mayor Pugh says the city's stepped-up recruitment efforts are yielding more applications for prospective police officers, but the bottleneck now is the limited capacity of Baltimore’s police academy. She says $4 million in state funding would allow the city to expand the facility, hire more instructors and ultimately move more recruits through the academy each year, helping it to overcome attrition.
  • The state has helped substantially with the BPD’s efforts to upgrade its antiquated technology — notably by paying for computers in patrol cars. You know, like other police departments have had for the last 20 years or so. There are a few other items on the antiquated equipment list the city could use help in paying to replace: its obsolete radio handsets and controls ($18 million); the cramped, technologically outdated emergency services center that handles 911 calls ($50 million over five years); and the central evidence storage facility, which is too small and doesn’t meet national best practice standards ($25 million over five years).
  • Baltimore has a robust system of closed-circuit CitiWatch cameras that have proven effective in catching criminals (and, occasionally, bad cops), but they are only effective if the city has enough people to monitor them. An additional $2.1 million would double the number of people watching the video feeds and coordinating with officers in the field to prevent crimes and make arrests.
Roca,s an anti-violence intervention program targeting young men, has arrived in Baltimore. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
  • The city’s philanthropic community has rallied around the effort to create a Baltimore version of the Roca program, which has proven effective in intervening in the lives of high-risk young people in Boston. A commitment by the state of $2.3 million over three years — just a fraction of the funds local and private sources have already committed to — would help secure the program's future here.

So, Mr. Hogan, Mr. Jealous, how about it?