Authorities couldn't convict mobster Al Capone for murder, so they got him for tax evasion instead. Baltimore should try similar tactics against the city's violent criminals.
Authorities couldn't convict mobster Al Capone for murder, so they got him for tax evasion instead. Baltimore should try similar tactics against the city's violent criminals. (AP / AP)

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young went hat in hand to Annapolis and Gov. Larry Hogan last Friday, asking for a litany of resources and tools to staunch the bleeding on the streets of Baltimore. With 700 shootings and 220 murders to date, Charm City threatens to mark more deadly milestones in 2019 than in any year in its nearly 300-year history.

Mr. Young is right to ask for help, but he, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby can swiftly save lives if they act aggressively and promptly.

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It’s time to “Capone” Baltimore’s killers – take them off the streets by charging and convicting suspected murderers with other available crimes and jailing them for as long as possible.

In their meeting, the mayor asked Mr. Hogan for a special police unit to target Baltimore’s “top 25 most violent offenders,” but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the many hundreds of identified “trigger pullers” who are suspected to have either killed or attempted to kill city residents.

Back in September 2016, State’s Attorney Mosby revealed the existence of what other cities call a “strategic subjects list,” saying, “We know who the trigger pullers are, now let’s go after them … We’ve identified 602 individuals on the trigger pull list and have narrowed that list down to monitor the top [offenders] in every district on a rolling basis.”

Curiously, Ms. Mosby announced a unit just like what Mayor Young wants – coordinating police and prosecutors to target these high-risk offenders.

Since Ms. Mosby’s announcement, over 1,000 Baltimoreans have been murdered. It should end now.

According to the Baltimore Police Department’s own data, over one-third of the arrested homicide suspects in 2017 and 2018 were on probation or parole at the time of their crime. More than 85% had prior criminal records including 50% with violent criminal offenses.

What the police data omits is that those 200 suspects represent a mere 30% of the total offenders and only the ones actually arrested for the crime. Of the more than 650 murders in 2017 and 2018, over 400 of the killers have yet to face justice for their crime – and may never.

In Baltimore and in most other large cities, the police know or have a strong reason to believe who killed whom – they just cannot prove it in court due to witness noncooperation and a lack of resources to collect the necessary evidence. Worse, for places like Baltimore with an average of a murder a day, an overstretched homicide division barely digs into the last murder case when a new one hits their desk.

That brings us to the notorious gangster Al Capone. The Chicago mobster either killed or had ordered the murders of 33 people, extorted and robbed countless others, and terrorized the Windy City for decades. Then, he was arrested and, eventually, jailed – for tax evasion.

Because the federal charges stuck and the judge wouldn’t accept a light sentence plea deal, Capone was put out of commission even though the gangster never stood trial for his most egregious crimes.

With Capone “incapacitated,” his criminal empire and trail of blood ended. He left prison ill and broken and sought treatment for his venereal diseases – in Baltimore – before dying.

The same approach – using every available charge and throwing the book at offenders – can curtail, if not stop, the violence in Charm City and bring a semblance of justice and order back to the streets.

Hundreds of Baltimore’s murderers walk free because we let them while we cower in fear of civil libertarians’ disapproval.

Since more than a third of homicide suspects are probationers and parolees or out on bail on pending charges, they should be monitored and, whenever possible, have their status revoked for violations. Likely killers who are caught as “felons in possession of a firearm” should face the maximum sentence – 15 years – allowed by Maryland law. That’s not happening now. The Sun reported in 2016 that Ms. Mosby’s prosecutors dropped a quarter of the gun cases they brought before trial, and the sentences judges hand down for those who were convicted averaged just 16 months, with much of that time suspended.

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Similarly for all violent, narcotics, and public order offenses, Baltimore’s police and prosecutors should throw the book at these murder suspects. With less than 60% of charged felonies in Baltimore City resulting in a conviction, Baltimore is bleeding because its killers are getting a slap on the wrist for their other crimes. Furthermore, many of these criminals have outstanding court fees and fines, failure-to-appear warrants, delinquent child support, and tax and traffic offenses. Enforce the law and watch the murder rate tumble.

Baltimore leaders have found success with something like this before, but the kind of focus and coordination necessary to make it work hasn’t survived multiple transitions in the state’s Department of Parole and Probation, City Hall and the state’s attorney’s office.

There is no need to wait for another 911 homicide call to bring all the resources of the city, the state, and the federal government to bear.

Locking up or incapacitating the worst of the worst is no shame, it is the duty of all levels of government. Baltimore’s mayor, police commissioner, and chief prosecutor should do theirs – lives depend on it.

Sean Kennedy is a visiting fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a nonpartisan thinktank that studies critical public policy issues in Maryland. His email is seandavidkennedy@gmail.com.

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