Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan called on Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to prosecute more violent crime in Baltimore. It was widely viewed as primarily a political statement — a demonstration of no confidence in Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, the individual actually responsible for prosecuting crime, violent and otherwise in the city, as well as perhaps a subtler dig at Mr. Frosh, a progressive Democrat with a track record for challenging the top Republican in Washington. The AG has often drawn criticism from the state GOP for filing lawsuits questioning President Donald Trump’s authority on a wide range of issues from the early days of the “Muslim ban” to his failure to abide by the Constitution’s emoluments clause that restricts taking money from foreign governments.
Rightly or wrongly, Mr. Frosh took the governor at his word and this week responded with a wish list of the resources he’d need for his office to become seriously involved in prosecuting more city cases. The ask? About 30 more staff members including 20 assistant attorneys general to beef up his modest, 10-person organized crime unit, which works on drug trafficking, gangs and violent crime across the state and not just in Baltimore.
His letter makes a pretty compelling case for why any substantial upgrade in prosecution takes manpower and resources. For example, Mr. Frosh calls on more money and staff for witness protection, a vital need given Baltimore’s well-documented “stop-snitching” culture. He speculates that he would require hiring analysts to pore over intelligence like cell phone data from criminal suspects. And then there’s investigators, specialized software and databases that would be required. Mr. Frosh even notes that existing Maryland State Police support has diminished over the years — instead of the dozen or so troopers providing “law enforcement support” to the AG’s crime efforts, he has just one now. That would need to change.
There’s no bottom line number provided, but it would surely take millions upon millions of dollars in new spending. Given the homicide rate in Baltimore, once again expected to surpass the 300-level this year, that’s justified. But the more fundamental question is this: Should we be turning the attorney general into an annex (or even alternative) to the state’s attorney’s office? The chief duty of any AG is to represent the legal interests of state government, state officials and state residents. Its criminal prosecutions tend to be in niche areas like organized crime or complex cases or criminal appeals, environmental crimes or consumer rip-offs that local state’s attorneys aren’t necessarily equipped to handle.
Starting from close-to-scratch at the state level seems like a highly inefficient way to go after bad guys at the local level. If state government has millions lying around to beef up criminal prosecution in Baltimore, why not provide the largesse to Ms. Mosby’s office directly? Day in and day out, her staffers are in district and circuit courtrooms arguing cases from jaywalking to first-degree murder.
We know the governor’s counter-argument. He believes Ms. Mosby isn’t tough enough on criminals. He’s blasted what he sees as “excessively lenient plea deals” and thinks she goes soft on repeat offenders. "Far too often in Baltimore city, violent offenders get a slap on the wrist and are released back out on the streets to commit another violent offense,” the governor wrote the attorney general in September.
But is that the problem, or is that simply the preferred narrative of those who seek to blame crime on Baltimore and not on all the extenuating circumstances that feed the criminal behavior such as concentrated poverty, the failed war on drugs, segregation, discriminatory practices in the criminal justice system, widespread civilian distrust of police that makes convictions much tougher in city courts and on and on? How easy it would be to fix the problem if it was just bad plea deals.
But let’s not take Ms. Mosby off the hook. Maybe she could do a better job, too. So why not work with her office, Governor Hogan? According to Ms. Mosby, he hasn’t been willing to talk to her. In her own recent letter (That the parties can’t just get in room and chat instead of using a 19th century mode of communication is not a good sign), she called for more resources from the state as well. "Frankly, we have not received enough support, financial or otherwise, from the Governor’s Mansion,” Ms. Mosby wrote.
So here’s the current scoreboard: The governor says he wants to work with everyone. So does Ms. Mosby. So does Mr. Frosh. So when does that work begin and all the political grandstanding end? We’re asking for the residents of the city that has to deal with all the violent crime. They are literally dying to find out.