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Hogan, Pugh need to work together

Fraser Smith BigPrograms come and go. Our desperate city welcomes anything with a promising track record. Anything that might slow the surge in murder and mayhem would be cause for celebration.

Murder passes the 300-mark without slowing down, leading to  conversations about forgetting the rule of law, innocent till proven guilty and a softer touch with young offenders.

A policeman’s story:

“There was this 14-year-old kid who was arrested for having a gun and threatening people. He was caught but quickly released — and just days later was back on the street and armed once again.”

A concerned citizen:

“The city fathers — judges and other elected officials — should realize they have to settle on a less than ideal solution, a less-than perfect approach. Something has to change.”

What “something?” one asks.

Something like this, the concerned citizen says: a suggestion of where desperation and fear take us.

Young repeat offenders with guns should be held pending trial. Trial and conviction should almost always result in jail time. Repeat offenders have to see immediately the cost to them of lawbreaking. No negotiation, no plea bargaining or wrist-slapping. That sort of “something.”

The rest of us reach the point of understanding at a deep level why a solution must be found: The foundations of our society, not just personal safety, are threatened when murder and violence and guns control the streets.

Thus all of us welcome Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement of a new program of some sort. Details to follow. A Hogan spokesman did say that education and job training were not included in the governor’s definition of crime fighting.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis were not present for the governor’s press conference. No answer from the governor’s office.

Maybe the mayor and commissioner had the time-honored “long-standing previous commitment.” (Pugh did address the governor’s proposals the following day and spoke of her own efforts to fight crime.) Let’s hope we don’t have irreconcilable differences. The two sides had appeared to be working together.

In everyone’s interests

Hogan’s base of suburban and rural voters may have no regard for Baltimore, but they don’t like murder and violence, either. He’s the governor of the entire state, including Baltimore.

He has said he wants Baltimore to be Maryland’s economic engine. And he knows out-of-control crime does not help the state’s effort to attract more business, including the desperately coveted East Coast headquarters for Amazon.

Clearly, of course, young men with guns have little concern for the city’s Amazon bid. Other issues — survival, etc. — have higher priorities.

Thus  did Pugh announce her determination to find $17 million for a new (to Baltimore) program for diverting young people from lives likely to land them in prison or grave. Hogan did not mention this program, called “Roca” (rock  in Spanish), which has been successful in the Boston area.

A spokesman says Hogan’s team is actively considering Roca.

Jobs and other diversion efforts have given some hundreds of young people new lives. The failure rate is said to be near zero.

A spokesman for Hogan says the program is under active consideration.

The mayor says she’s determined to find the money for a four-year Roca chapter here. The city needs a success, begged or borrowed.

It also needs daily illustrations of the mayor’s determination to find one. She has to be the leader. She has to show the sort of leadership she showed during the Freddie Gray uprising.

Baltimore has yet to respond sufficiently to the decay and neglect that gave us Sandtown-Winchester, a neighborhood plagued  with chronic disease and ex-offenders barred from employment and community life.

Hogan should step up now to say he’s all in with the mayor’s Roca plan. Time for “consideration” is over unless he can offer something more promising.

We applaud the public safety goal. It has to be Job One. But without education and jobs and other supports we will surely see a continuing cycle of death, destruction and loss of faith in those institutions charged with preserving our safety and way of life.

C. Fraser Smith is a writer in Baltimore. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He can be reached at smithfraser911@gmail.com.


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