Ivan Bates, the Democratic nominee for Baltimore state’s attorney, said all of Baltimore can agree on one thing: “Everyone wants a safer city.”
Speaking Monday at his first news conference since becoming the nominee, Bates promised to reduce the violent crime plaguing Baltimore neighborhoods, but said in doing so he will need help from law enforcement and City Hall.
“Right now, Baltimore, we’re in our silos,” Bates said. “We’re fighting, we’re not fighting together. We fight together, we can win together.”
Officially, Bates has to win the general election in November against defense attorney Roya Hanna, who is running as an independent. Realistically, Bates is all but guaranteed to be Baltimore’s next top prosecutor, with the city’s voters electing the Democratic candidate every election since 1920.
Bates already has some support in City Hall, with attendees at Monday’s news conference including Baltimore city councilmen Zeke Cohen and Yitzy Schleifer, as well as city Comptroller Bill Henry.
Cohen said the city’s residents “breathed a collective sigh of relief” when they found out Bates, and not incumbent State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby or former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah, was going to win the primary.
“Baltimore is in a moment of uncertainty,” Cohen said Monday. “We know we have real challenges in our city. We know violence has been a constant over the past few years, and we know that there is one person that is positioned to take this office and completely transform it and make it into something that is not only functional, but that is effective.”
Friday evening, shortly after being declared the primary winner, Bates spoke with Mayor Brandon Scott on the phone. The pair will hold future meetings to make sure they are on the same page when it comes to the city’s strategy for reducing crime, Bates said Monday.
Baltimore has recorded more than 2,500 homicides since 2015, including more than 200 so far this year. In addition to the crime rates, current and former city officials pointed to a state’s attorney’s office that is so understaffed with prosecutors it cannot effectively prosecute the cases it has. Bates has said rebuilding the office is his top priority.
Bates’ relationship with the Baltimore Police Department will be crucial in effectively prosecuting cases. He said Monday the department and the state’s attorney’s office have to work together to make sure cases are thorough and together before the decision to charge is made. The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, the department’s union, has long been one of Mosby’s most vocal critics, and Mosby supporters said they think officers may not work as hard because of their dislike for her.
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“He understands how important it is to work collaboratively with our law enforcement partners in a way that is effective in fighting crime,” former city state’s attorney Gregg Bernstein said of Bates.
Bates has promised to crack down on drug dealing and gun possession, and plans to seek mandatory prison sentences for people convicted on gun charges.
“We are putting the criminal element on notice: It’s no more probation,” he said. “We win [at trial], you will go to prison and for a significant amount of time.”
Bates has promised to repeal or nullify most of Mosby’s core prosecution policies on his first day in office. Mosby stopped the prosecution of simple drug possession, trespassing and prostitution.
But Bates said just because his office will begin prosecuting misdemeanors again does not mean the city is returning to the tough-on-crime mindset that caused mass incarceration of Black residents and enabled the unconstitutional policing that brought a consent decree down on the Baltimore Police Department. Many cases will be funneled into diversion courts in an effort connect people with services and treatment as an alternative to traditional prosecution where the outcome is often a conviction and a period of incarceration.
Former mayor Sheila Dixon said she thinks Bates is the kind of leader who will put ego aside and try to make solutions-oriented policy.
“We need consistency,” she said. “And we need to look at what works and what doesn’t work, and we need to build on those things and not throw it out because it was somebody else’s idea.”