Hoping to blunt an increase in violent crime across Maryland, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) rolled out a familiar law-and-order policy vision on Monday, including proposed sharp increases in police spending and a crackdown on repeat offenders who use firearms to prey on others.
Hogan said he will seek $500 million over the next three years to boost officer pay, increase aid to local police departments by 50%, and “fully fund” victim services providers. He will also earmark $50 million for improvements to the Maryland State Police barracks and a new tactical services building for the agency’s Special Operations Division.
The governor also announced that he will again seek General Assembly support for a variety of sentencing proposals that lawmakers have rejected — or refused to even consider — in the past.
Speaking to reporters, the term-limited governor cast the spending requests and legislative proposals as part of his “Re-Fund The Police” initiative, a counterpoint to “Defund the Police,” a movement sparked two years ago following the death of George Floyd.
“There is nothing more important than addressing the violent crime crisis,” Hogan told reporters. “Trying to reduce crime by defunding the police is a dangerous and radical idea.” Hogan spoke while standing in front of a group of policy agency leaders in uniform.
Hogan did not explain how all of the $500 million he is seeking would be used. Some details, he said, would be contained in the his proposed FY 2023 budget, which he will make public next week.
Because he is set to leave office next January, the governor said he will propose legislation to make the increase in local police aid “permanent, so that the next governor won’t be able to cut it.”
Data on the website of the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victims Services run only to 2019, but numbers supplied by the office show that homicides and non-fatal shootings have increased over the last three years.
Homicides in the state increased from 498 in 2019 to 662 in 2021, a jump of 33%, while non-fatal shootings climbed from 987 in 2019 to 1,342 in 2021, a 36% increase. An official cautioned that the 2021 numbers are preliminary.
In addition to his funding proposal, which requires legislative approval, Hogan will again seek General Assembly support for two safety measures.
His Violent Firearms Offender Act would toughen penalties for offenders who use or illegally possess firearms. The Judicial Transparency Act would require the state Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy “track and publish detailed information on the sentences that are handed down by judges for violent crimes.”
As he has throughout his tenure in office, including in October, when he announced $150 million in new police funding, Hogan was critical of judges and local prosecutors who fail to sentence repeat offenders more harshly.
Maryland lawmakers begin their 2022 legislative session on Wednesday. Hogan has introduced these measures in prior sessions, without success. He said his proposals are popular with the public and he rattled off a set of poll results, though he did not identify the survey that produced them.
Hogan also said Monday that the state will begin tracking open warrants, “beginning in high-crime areas in Baltimore City.”
“We need transparency on whether judges are issuing requested warrants, and aggressive and immediate enforcement of all open warrants,” he said.
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) said the legislature is eager to work with the administration on boosting public safety and helping under-invested communities. But Hogan “missed the moment to have an honest conversation” by engaging in bumper-sticker sloganeering, he said.
“If you look at the major jurisdictions, and the jurisdictions that he is pointing toward for increases in crime, those jurisdictions have increased their investment in public safety,” Smith said. “No one is defunding the police. It’s just an intellectually dishonest tag-line.”
Smith said any bill that includes mandatory minimum sentences — like Hogan’s firearm offenders bill — are “a non-starter.”
House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore) noted that as governor, Hogan has been in charge of the Department of Public Safety and Correction Services, and the Department of Parole and Probation, for seven years.
“We need somebody who can actually take the next steps and acknowledge that — under their administration — we have seen a huge increase in murders, a huge increase in rapes,” he said. “If he wants to change the subject of funding or defunding the police, that’s fine. I’m look at what he’s doing with the money (he has) — and it’s completely unsatisfactory.”
Hogan has undertaken efforts to build a national profile for himself in recent years — serving as head of the National Governors Association, campaigning for candidates willing to buck former President Trump, and appearing on national TV interviews.
He appeared to suggest his rejection of “Defund the Police” efforts led some big-city mayors to boost public safety funding. “Even in the most progressive cities all across the country, leaders are now following our lead and admitting that instead of defunding, they need more investment in public safety.”
by Bruce DePuyt