We are grateful that Gov. Larry Hogan has agreed to funnel an additional $21 million in state resources to help fight violent crime in Baltimore, and more generally that he is acknowledging his own responsibility for reducing violence. Too often he has spoken about Baltimore’s problems as if he were a spectator and not a participant. We share his desire for as much transparency as possible about how much progress the department is making, and we agree that it would be useful to set specific goals for reducing homicides and other violent crime, though getting below 200 homicides in two years, as the governor’s office believes possible, is rather ambitious.
Beyond the funding commitments Mr. Hogan outlined in his letter, a spokesman says talks are ongoing between the state and city to accommodate some of the specific requests Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young made for increased coordination between state and city law enforcement agencies. That’s good news. Mr. Young’s suggestions were specific and well considered, for example increasing the degree to which parole and probation officers are embedded in police precincts or the resources the state dedicates to crime-suppression traffic stops. He proposed that the state take over staffing at Central Booking to free up city officers for other duties, and for the Maryland Stadium Authority to reimburse the city for the officers it deploys outside the stadium complex during Orioles and Ravens games. Mr. Hogan is even going a step farther by promising increased use of state police helicopters to aid city law enforcement.
Still, Governor Hogan couldn’t get through his letter to Mayor Young without some digs at Baltimore and at least one bad idea.
From the lies, damn lies and statistics department come the governor’s musing that Baltimore should be much better situated to fight crime than it was in 2011, the year it recorded fewer than 200 homicides. Since then, he wrote, “the total Baltimore Police Department budget has increased by 47 percent. Unemployment has been cut in half to 3.8 percent, and the median household income has increased by 21.7 percent.” For a bit of context, the Maryland State Police budget has increased by 51 percent in that time. The unemployment rate in Baltimore has dropped substantially since 2011, but it remains at 5.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The 3.8% figure is for the entire state.) And he’s right about the 21.7%, according to the Census Bureau, but it’s worth noting that the income disparity between the city and state has actually gotten worse in that period and now stands at $33,645. Mr. Hogan doesn’t acknowledge the effect of the Freddie Gray unrest on either the community or the police department or the fact that the governor back in 2011 was a former Baltimore mayor who remained singularly focused on bringing the levers of state government to bear on reducing the city’s violent crime.
More broadly, Mr. Hogan dismisses Commissioner Michael Harrison’s crime reduction plan as mainly representing “the status quo [and what is] already being done or has been tried before.” Aside from the fact that the assessment badly shortchanges the steps Mr. Harrison is taking to simultaneously reform the department and make it more effective, the insult doesn’t even succeed on its own terms. Yes, Baltimore is proposing to do things it has done before — because they worked before. Mayor Young’s proposal for deepening the relationship between the city police and state parole and probation, for example, is modeled on the extensive role that agency played in Baltimore’s violence-reduction successes of a decade ago.
And then there’s the bad idea. Mr. Hogan is urging Baltimore to resurrect the private surveillance plane program that operated on a secret, trial basis three years ago. The governor’s office has met twice with representatives of Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance, which has engaged in a seemingly unending campaign to persuade city officials to allow them back into the skies over Baltimore, and Mr. Hogan evidently believes the company’s promise that it can cut crime in the city 20%-30% in the first year.
We are skeptical. The surveillance plane might be able to track where suspects come from before a crime and where they go afterward, but it cannot identify them. That might help provide leads for police, but it doesn’t give them the kind of evidence they need to make arrests or the evidence prosecutors need to get convictions. You still need old fashioned police work for that, and above all the cooperation of witnesses. Mr. Harrison’s efforts to implement the terms of the consent decree are likely to have a much bigger impact on that than cameras in the sky. And although the company promises safeguards against misuse of the system and the data it gathers, we have real misgivings about putting that kind of power and information in for-profit hands.
Fortunately, approving the plane isn’t up to Mr. Hogan, and the fact that some of the language in his letter rankled us is much less important than the substance of what he’s pledging to do. We know violence in Baltimore went down when Gov. Martin O’Malley made it a top priority for the state, and we’re confident it will if Mr. Hogan does too.