ANNAPOLIS — Violent criminals in Baltimore need to face certain punishment as part of an effort to stem the rising tide of violence in the state’s largest city, according to one researcher from Johns Hopkins
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy, stopped short of any recommendations on mandatory sentencing but told state lawmakers that certainty of penalties for crimes play a role in driving down violence.
“I do think that a certainty of consequence is very important to deterrence,” Webster said. “Certainly, illegal gun possession will result in a consequence people will feel.”
City leaders and others traveled to the capital Tuesday to speak to a panel of lawmakers looking for ways to address city violence. Part of that discussion would include Gov. Larry Hogan’s yet-to-be-released proposal for “truth in sentencing.”
Webster also called for stronger cases against violent criminals to increase conviction rates.
“There are a lot of killers who have not found justice,” Webster said.
Webster called on lawmakers to look at approaches that include nonviolent conflict resolution and increased access to jobs. But he added that squads focused on getting illegal guns off the street are also important, cautioning that such enforcement units need to be used judiciously.
“They can be very effective but can also get on the wrong side of the law,” Webster said, adding that units which overstep legal bounds “erode trust between police and the community.”
Webster’s testimony was part of a lengthy hearing Tuesday called by Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Zirkin said the purpose of the hearing is to look for potential solutions to the rising tide of violence in the city that includes nearly 250 murders so far this year and increased gun violence.
Zirkin said the he and legislators are looking for “a holistic approach” to addressing the crisis.
“Whether you live in the city or over the city line or anywhere across the street, while this is happening in the city it means something to the entire state,” Zirkin said. “It’s incumbent on us to work with the city.”
Zirkin said the meeting in Annapolis is the first of an effort he said would continue throughout the fall leading up to the 2018 legislative session.
Hogan, a first-term Republican governor, met with city officials two weeks in Baltimore. Following that meeting, the governor publicly blamed judges for failing to get violent criminals off the street and announced for the first time a plan to introduce what he called “truth-in-sentencing” legislation.
“One of my biggest concerns is that we have repeat violent offenders, sometimes with an average of 11 or 13 convictions, who are not being sentenced to jail once they are convicted of a violent crime,” Hogan said at the time. “We have, in some cases for repeat violent offenders, mandatory minimum sentences but we have sentences that are being handed down that they’re waiving — let’s say it’s a five-year minimum sentence — we’ll give you five years but we’re going to waive it all and give you probation.”
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said lawmakers and others need to be careful not to let politics overtake the focus on reducing violent crime in the city.
“We all have different ideas to achieve the goal,” Davis said. “Sometimes the goal gets lost in the debate.”
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby called on lawmakers to give prosecutors the ability to compel witnesses to testify in juvenile cases.
“Violent youthful offenders have to be held accountable,” Mosby said.
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, D-Baltimore City, told lawmakers that the entire legislature needs to get behind the effort or it will spread,
“This is not just a Baltimore City problem, it’s Baltimore City-focused,” said McFadden. “It’s coming to Anne Arundel and Baltimore County, Frederick,” McFadden said. “It’s everywhere.”