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Maryland Democrats call for an audit of gun crimes as they announce public safety legislation

State Sen. Antonio Hayes, the chairman of Baltimore’s Senate delegation, speaks Tuesday as Maryland Democratic lawmakers introduce their crime-fighting proposals.
State Sen. Antonio Hayes, the chairman of Baltimore’s Senate delegation, speaks Tuesday as Maryland Democratic lawmakers introduce their crime-fighting proposals.(Luke Broadwater)

Maryland Democratic leaders called Tuesday for an audit of all gun crimes in the state ― to find out where the state’s criminal justice system is breaking down and letting shooters escape justice ― as part of a package of anti-crime legislation.

Flanked by other lawmakers, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones announced a half dozen bills they said would address persistent violent crime in the state, particularly in Baltimore, which has suffered from more than 300 homicides five years in a row.

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“We stand here today united, as a House and Senate, to say, ‘No more,’” Ferguson said. “The people of Maryland demand, ‘No more excuses. No more fighting. No more bickering. Solve this problem.’"

“Crime prevention isn’t just a Baltimore issue. It’s an issue for everyone," Jones said.

Among the Democrats’ proposals is legislation that would require a statewide audit of gun crimes to “pinpoint where the breakdown exists in the criminal justice system."

The point, the Democrats said, is to determine exactly where the system is failing, from the 911 calls to the courts.

They argued better enforcement of existing laws ― not necessarily the passage of new ones ― is key to solving the state’s crime problems.

“We don’t just need new laws," Jones said. “Our existing laws need to work more effectively.”

Democrats argued too many state public safety operations are understaffed. They said Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration hasn’t provided strong enough supervision of the 25% of Baltimore murder suspects who were under the watch of parole and probation.

The lawmakers propose requiring a staffing plan for parole and probation, juvenile services and corrections, all of which face staffing shortages.

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They also want to require law enforcement agencies to work together more by creating teams focused on violent offenders, and increased monitoring of the port of Baltimore for guns and illegal drugs, among other proposals.

The House Minority Caucus responded with a joint statement from Minority Leader Nic Kipke and Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga.

“I am glad to see our Democratic colleagues acknowledge that violent crime is a crisis in our state and are joining our caucus and the governor in making it a priority this legislative session," Kipke said.

However, Szeliga said, “some of our Democratic colleagues’ ‘solutions’ clearly miss the mark."

“Instead of going after the people committing murder with illegal guns, they are attempting to cast blame on the governor and state agencies," she said. "These are incredibly ineffective ways to begin a meaningful dialogue on a crisis of such magnitude.”

The Democrats’ plans released Tuesday find some common ground with Hogan’s crime-fighting proposals.

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Democrats said they were committed to cracking down on those who give guns to others for use in a crime and on witness intimidation. Hogan has introduced legislation on those topics.

“The governor is encouraged to see House and Senate leaders talk about violent crime — the most urgent issue facing our state — and embrace some of the much-needed reforms that he has been pushing for," said Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci.

Hogan’s proposals include increasing penalties for people who give guns to someone else to use in a crime, requiring reports to track judges who hand down lenient sentences and increasing penalties for witness intimidation.

Several of the governor’s bills had hearings Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee.

“If we’re going to get a handle on the rampant violence in Baltimore, we must stop the flow of illegal guns into the hands of criminals,” testified Keiffer Mitchell Jr., Hogan’s chief legislative officer.

Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Harford County Republican who is minority leader in the Senate, said he wanted to review the Democrats’ proposals before commenting.

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