Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday pledged $21 million to help fight crime in Baltimore and endorsed the use of a controversial surveillance plane to fly over the city recording the movements of people and vehicles below.
In a letter to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Hogan also said he authorized up to 10 Maryland State Police helicopter crews to staff their own flights over the city and urged city officials to set a goal of reducing homicides to below 200 a year.
“You have inherited a difficult situation, but now is the time to show the people of the city that we are all serious about stopping this deadly violence and getting shooters off of the streets,” Hogan, a Republican, wrote to Young, a Democrat.
Hogan’s letter comes after he met last month with Young and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, and Young asked for more state support for fighting crime amid a surging rate of gun violence. The city has had more than 300 homicides for four years in a row, and killings are up again this year.
Specifically, Young asked Hogan for more state police deployments in the city, more staff for parole and probation services in Baltimore and the release of $7 million in funding for technology upgrades in the Baltimore Police Department.
In his letter Tuesday, Hogan said the state would provide the $7 million for the police department and an additional $14 million for Young’s other requests “provided that you submit acceptable quarterly performance measures to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention” by Oct. 15. A spokesman for the governor said officials want to negotiate with the mayor on what those benchmarks should be.
“The state is already doing much of what you recently requested us to do," Hogan told Young, "and we are prepared to do even more.”
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said the mayor had not yet received a copy of the letter. Davis said Young wanted to review it before responding.
The last time the city saw fewer than 200 homicides was 2011. Hogan noted the police department’s budget has increased 47% since then.
About 750 people have been shot this year in Baltimore, a 23% increase from the same time last year. Among those was Sgt. Isaac Carrington, 43 and a 22-year veteran of the police department, who survived being shot multiple times last month during an apparent robbery outside his home in the Frankford neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore.
In July, Harrison released a crime plan that set a “new performance goal” of responding to serious calls within 10 minutes. The police commissioner also said officers will be asked to spend a third of their time on proactive efforts to curb violent crime.
In his letter, Hogan said the city needs to go further.
“While your new Crime Reduction Strategy takes some important steps in the right direction, much of what you are proposing represents the status quo and is already being done or has been tried before,” the governor wrote. Hogan said the city has “no clear goals in place for the reduction of violent crime. Taxpayers should be able to track your progress and measure whether what you are doing is working.”
The governor said the state police helicopter crews will “conduct law enforcement tactical flights over Baltimore whenever their duties bring them into or near the city.” He said state police will work with Baltimore’s Foxtrot aerial unit to provide “additional support to the police officers on the ground and will proactively search for criminal activity or suspicious circumstances from the air.”
Hogan is the highest-profile Maryland official to endorse use of the surveillance plane, though he has no direct control over whether Baltimore police use it.
“We urge you to implement this program immediately,” the governor wrote.
Young and Harrison said last month they haven’t ruled out resurrecting the surveillance program, which city police grounded in 2016 after the revelation of its use sparked an public outcry. They have met with Ross McNutt, founder of Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems.
Persistent Surveillance Systems conducted 300 hours of surveillance in 2016 in Baltimore as part of a pilot program. The Cessna plane the company flew with police permission could record footage of 32 square miles of the city at any given moment. But the program had not been publicly disclosed, and its revelation sparked an uproar ― particularly among advocates for civil liberties ― that prompted police to end the city’s use of the system.
David Rocah, a senior staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, warned Tuesday against a return to using the surveillance system.
“Governor Hogan is as wrong and misguided as Ross McNutt,” Rocah said. “His endorsement of it demonstrates the contempt with which he holds the residents of Baltimore, who are the ones who will have a virtual police officer following their every movement ― not the governor.”
Rocah also condemned McNutt’s lobbying effort.
“It’s being pushed by people outside of Baltimore,” Rocah said. “It’s a cynical attempt to use the failings of public safety in Baltimore as a government power grab. There’s nothing more despicable than that.”
McNutt has said the plane could resume flying for three years, without cost to the city, thanks to donations. He said also donors are willing to pay for multiple planes to perform surveillance. After three years, the city would need to pay for the program.
“Baltimore needs all the help it can get,” McNutt said of Hogan’s letter. “We would be happy to come back and help as quickly as possible.”
Former City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, a Democrat who supports the plane, said she planned to use the governor’s letter to push Young and Harrison to revive the program.
City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who is chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said city officials have been asking for more state police resources for months and he welcomed the additional support. He said Young and Harrison would make a decision about the surveillance plane.