Mayor Brandon Scott is seeking to drum up support among former members of the Baltimore City Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to restart the group, which shut down in 2017 when Gov. Larry Hogan pulled its funding.
In a letter Wednesday to would-be members of a reconstituted panel, Scott argued that “curing the violence epidemic is only possible if government agencies and our partners are concentrated and coordinated.”
“Before state funding was slashed in 2017, the [council] offered a much-needed forum for stakeholders to come together and discuss urgent matters regarding violent crime, share timely information, and develop collaborative measures to build a safer Baltimore,” Scott wrote.
Scott’s letter came as he and Hogan prepared to meet Thursday in Annapolis to discuss violent crime in the city. The meeting was scheduled last week after news of a quadruple shooting in Carroll Park, along with other recent headline-grabbing shootings, provoked a public spat between the Democratic leader of Maryland’s largest city and the Republican head of state government.
Asked Wednesday afternoon about restarting the council, Hogan said he had no opposition to the group meeting but said it was “naive” to think committee meetings would stop murders in the city.
Hogan’s spokesman Mike Ricci said the governor wanted a “detailed crime plan to stop the shootings and address the anxiety of city residents.”
The letter from Scott does not state whether the city would fund the panel. The original annual state allocation of $219,000 paid primarily for the costs of having two council employees.
Scott wrote that he envisions the coordinating council building on the work of the new Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which is headed by Shantay Jackson.
The panel was formed in 1999 to address systemic problems affecting criminal justice in Baltimore. Its members included the Baltimore police commissioner, the state’s attorney for the city, three judges, the mayor and the City Council president.
The group met monthly and focused on expediting the handling of criminal cases. Judges led subcommittees to discuss improvements to the system. In a 2014 report, the group touted behind-the-scenes accomplishments, such as paying for fiber connection between the state Department of Parole and Probation and the Baltimore Police Department to support a gun registry and coordinating a fugitive safe surrender program with the U.S. Marshals Service.
Hogan announced in 2017 he was defunding the council because the group refused “to even look at anything about violent crime.”
“If you’re not going to focus on violent crime in the city, then we don’t feel the need to fund it any longer,” Hogan said at the time. “We’re giving all the funding to the city of Baltimore, to the mayor’s office, so it can be spent to try to do something about violent crime, rather than spent for a lunch where people sit around and talk about other issues.”
Then-Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh offered to take charge of the panel. But that suggestion was rebuffed by Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles J. Peters, who said judges couldn’t be perceived to be working for the mayor.
“We can never, ever be seen as your ally or an ally of law enforcement,” he said at the time.
A clerk for Peters said Wednesday he would have no comment.
Scott, the city’s mayor since December, has publicly lobbied Hogan to restart meetings of the defunct board. He called for it in his State of the City address in March, and again on social media during his war of words with the governor over the recent violence.
Gun violence in Baltimore has persisted since the exchange. Three women and a man were shot Tuesday in the area of the Poe Homes public housing complex in West Baltimore. Police also responded to three separate shootings, one fatal, in other parts of the city Tuesday that were reported within minutes of each other. Another gunshot victim showed up Wednesday at a local hospital.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison supports the mayor’s efforts to restart the council, Baltimore Police Department spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said.
Spokeswomen for City Council President Nick Mosby and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.
Scott declined to answer a question during a news conference Wednesday about whether he plans to lobby the governor during their meeting to restart the council. Scott said he had agreed not to discuss the session’s agenda.
Scott’s spokesman, Cal Harris, said the mayor “would love to have Governor Hogan’s support.”