Baltimore, MD – The governor of Maryland on Monday announced a new law enforcement initiative for fighting crime in Baltimore that includes a new 200-officer “strike force.”
“People who live in Baltimore are rightfully scared,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said, according The Baltimore Sun. “They don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods. Citizens across the state are outraged by the daily headlines of this rampant gang violence. … They’re crying out for somebody to do something to stop these killings.”
Hogan said state and federal law enforcement will also launch a “new violent crime joint operation center” in Baltimore.
He said that 200 officers from 16 agencies would work together in the new center targeting gangs, The Baltimore Sun reported.
The location of the joint operations center was kept confidential due to the sensitive nature of the work that will be done there, but it’s expected to be up and running immediately, according to Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the governor.
Hogan also promised the expansion of “Project Exile,” a program by which federal prosecutors charge defendants in lieu of local prosecutors in the hopes of getting longer prison sentences.
The governor also promised money for signing bonuses for the Baltimore Police Department, as they desperately struggle to attract applicants to the police force.
The Baltimore Police Department had 3,000 officers 10 years ago under former Mayor Martin O’Malley, but that force was reduced by 500 officers under former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Current Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has complained she doesn’t have enough officers to patrol the city, and has asked for state assistance in tackling the city’s growing crime wave.
Pugh has also struggled to replace the police commissioner for the past year.
She announced on Tuesday that she had tapped New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison for her new commissioner after the Fort Worth chief removed himself from consideration for personal reasons on Monday.
The governor called the mayor’s announcement “very encouraging news.”
“It’s obviously been somewhat frustrating that for seven months, we haven’t had a permanent decision on the leadership,” Hogan said. “I’ve heard good things about the selection… I just want to get the leadership decided on and get the department moving in the right direction.”
The crime problem in Baltimore is also expected to be at the top of the priority list for the new state legislative session.
In December, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he would push the state to assist with several anti-crime initiatives in Baltimore, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Miller said he wanted to authorize a private police force for Johns Hopkins University, help the Baltimore mayor recruit 500 new officers, and launch a second police academy out of Coppin State University.
State Senator Bill Ferguson said he appreciated Hogan’s willingness to partner with the city to tackle the problem with increasing violence, and said they needed “an all-hands-on-deck approach” to address the complex issues.
Hogan has said he will introduce legislation to increase mandatory minimum sentences for repeat gun offenders.
He also promised to introduce a bill that would create a tracking system for sentences so that judges couldn’t get away with letting defendants off too easily.
Hogan said the federal consent decree between Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice wasn’t helping the problem.
He said there was too much attention paid to the failures of police and not enough paid to the violence of the criminals they’re trying to apprehend.
“There’s been a whole lot of focus on the consent decree...,” Hogan said. “I think it’s out of balance. We’re going to focus on getting the criminals off the street.”
In the first part of 2018, Hogan did a joint mission with the U.S. Marshals and Baltimore PD – Operation Seven Sentries –that resulted in the arrests of 259 individuals from 300 targeted outstanding warrants, according to WMAR.