With budget cuts, state board scraps contested plan for AG’s office to take on street crime in Baltimore

As part of $413 million in budget cuts caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the state Board of Public Works has scrapped plans to expand the Maryland attorney general’s office by adding a unit to prosecute street crime in Baltimore. In this Feb. 7, 2020, photo, Baltimore Fire Department crew members spray water on blood on a sidewalk after a man was killed in the 1300 block of West Franklin Street.

As part of $413 million in budget cuts prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, the state Board of Public Works scrapped plans to expand the Maryland attorney general’s office by adding a unit to prosecute street crime in Baltimore.

The budget department for Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration recommended cutting the funding for the Baltimore City Violent Crime Prosecution Division and abandoning plans to hire 25 people to staff the unit. Hogan and Democratic State Comptroller Peter Franchot voted Wednesday at a meeting of the three-member board to approve the cut, saving the state about $2.5 million.


The division was a matter of much debate late last year and incited a monthslong, public dispute between the Republican governor and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, a Democrat.

Mosby was encouraged by the governor’s decision to vote against funding the unit, her spokeswoman said Thursday. Hogan had announced the plan last year for Frosh’s office to take on more drug, gun and gang cases in Baltimore, and legislators in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly approved the money.


“We are encouraged by the governor’s recognition that his proposed measure does not outweigh the need to support evidence-based, public safety and health programs that will actually reduce the scourge of gun violence in our city,” Mosby’s spokeswoman, Zy Richardson, wrote in a statement.

A spokesman for Hogan said the plan wasn’t off the table for future years, after the state’s revenues recover from the pandemic-induced economic crisis.

“The governor will certainly continue to press the legislature on solutions to fight violent crime,” spokesman Mike Ricci wrote Thursday in an email.

Ricci said the division was included in the package of cuts because of “mixed support” for it from the attorney general. The office of Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, declined to comment.

The rampant street violence that has gripped Baltimore in recent years only worsened in 2020. The city had suffered 165 killings as of Thursday, four more deaths than during the same record-setting months last year.

The board also voted to cut a grant of nearly $200,000 to Mosby’s office. Her staff members were working Thursday to understand the implications of those cuts, Richardson said.

Other city and state officials were sorting Thursday through the board’s other cuts, trying to make sense of impacts to the general fund and grant programs.

City officials said the Hogan administration’s original proposal would have included a loss of significant funding from the state, including $10 million that allows the city to pay pensions for teachers. But those cuts were withdrawn Wednesday, and Baltimore’s $3 billion operating budget seemed to be spared.


Nonprofit directors also were working to determine how their budgets will be affected. The cuts approved include a reduction in grant money for city programs to reduce and prevent street violence, such as an Outward Bound program for troubled youth and the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.

Adam Rosenberg, executive director of the center, anticipated a 10% cut to two state grants that help pay for school mentoring and support children exposed to violence.

“I’m grateful it’s only 10%,” Rosenberg said. “There are going to be painful cuts that are going to be made all over.”

After an initial review Thursday, the Baltimore Police Department had not identified any cuts affecting the department’s operations, police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said.

Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the governor should have waited a few weeks to get more information on the state’s budget situation before his administration proposed $672 million in cuts. For instance, people must file their Maryland income tax returns by July 15.

More time would have given officials clarity to make judgments and set priorities, he said.


“I don’t, for a second, question that we are in a bind,” Clippinger said.

Still, he said he was concerned by cuts to programs aimed at stemming the violence in Baltimore, particularly the loss of the new prosecutors in Frosh’s office. The attorney general’s prosecutions are critical, he said, because they take on complex cases and criminal networks that span jurisdictions.

“We have to do more to get out in front and stop the violent crime,” Clippinger said.

Hogan announced the plan last year for the new division in the attorney general’s office, saying he wanted to see Frosh hire two dozen prosecutors and staff to tackle city violence. Hogan said Mosby’s office was too quick to drop cases and agree to “excessively lenient plea deals.”

“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,” Hogan wrote in a letter, directing Frosh to step in.

In response, Frosh said he had eight people currently prosecuting crimes, but could do more with a bigger staff. The state budget Hogan submitted in January sought to fund the new division, and Frosh said then that he welcomed the support.


The plan, however, did not sit well with Mosby.

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“I think that it’s problematic, to be quite candid with you, to have two local prosecutor’s offices essentially prosecuting the same types of crimes,” she said at the time.

Her office prosecutes a majority of criminal cases in the city, although federal prosecutors take up some cases.

In a letter to lawmakers, Mosby defended her record and urged them to oppose the new division. During a hearing on the funding bill, she said: “Tougher sentences, more prosecutors, more police is not going to reduce violence in the city.”

Hogan posted that quote to Facebook, along with a comment: “The person responsible for prosecuting crime in Baltimore City is opposing our crime initiatives to reduce violent crime.” His post received more than 1,000 comments, many disparaging Mosby.

Within weeks, the coronavirus broke out and Hogan issued a stay-at-home order to control the spread of COVID-19. That resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue from income and sales taxes.


Hogan’s budget department proposed last week the $672 million in cuts, but Franchot and Democratic State Treasurer Nancy Kopp objected Tuesday to $205 million of those proposals. The administration deferred those cuts the next day, and Hogan and Franchot then approved the more than $413 million in reductions, including $1.6 million that was to go to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and more than $131 million intended for higher education.

Reporters Pamela Wood and Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.