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Opinion: Columnists

Maryland governor isn't the crime-fighter he wants you to believe he is

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Maryland,Gregory Kane,Columnists,2016 Elections,Campaigns,Analysis,Civil Rights

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley probably wants to be your president.

O’Malley is featured in a new video, no doubt produced to introduce him to voters throughout the land. The thrust of the video is what a swell mayor of Baltimore O’Malley was, and what a swell governor of Maryland he’s been.

The video has probably caused O’Malley to feel his oats lately. With brazen cheekiness, he had the gall to suggest to current Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake that she adopt the “crime-fighting” strategies O’Malley used when he was mayor of the city.

O’Malley campaigned for mayor of Baltimore in 1999 on the promise that he would lower the horrific number of homicides in the city, which was more than 300 a year.

Once elected, he implemented a zero-tolerance policy. Baltimore police started arresting people for the pettiest of crimes.

The number of homicides did indeed drop under 300, but critics alleged that O’Malley’s police tactics were more akin to those one would expect in a police state, not in a republic with a constitution that guaranteed civil liberties.

Full disclosure: I was one of those frequent critics. I even called Baltimore “Stalag O’Malley” at one point. Things were that bad. Even beat cops went to the Fraternal Order of Police to have their union leaders urge O’Malley to chill on the unnecessary arrest policy.

O’Malley patted himself on the back for the drop in the number of homicides, convinced that his policies were the reason. It was a case of “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” reasoning that might not have been valid.

The homicide numbers continued to drop under Sheila Dixon, the mayor who succeeded O’Malley, after she abandoned O’Malley’s draconian zero-tolerance policy.

A scandal forced Dixon out of office, but homicide numbers still dropped after Rawlings-Blake took office. They started to increase this year, prompting O’Malley to cheekily butt his nose into the city’s affairs.

One could argue that the drop in Baltimore’s homicides was part of a downward trend in crime, not O’Malley’s policy. But you can bet O’Malley won’t be one of the people making that argument.

Nor would O’Malley be one of those making this argument: Doesn’t he have a Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services scandal to deal with, one that should preclude him from telling Rawlings-Blake how to do her job?

The scandal broke back in April, when federal prosecutors — not state or local, mind you — indicted 25 people on racketeering charges. Some of those indicted were members of the Black Guerilla Family gang.

Thirteen were corrections officers who worked in the Baltimore City Detention Center. Federal prosecutors allege that the corrections officers smuggled drugs, cell phones and other contraband into the jail for the BGF, and that the gang, not corrections officers, virtually ran the facility.

Federal prosecutors also allege that BGF leader Tavon White had sex with no fewer than four female corrections officers, impregnating all of them.

In August, another scandal was revealed. At the North Branch Correctional Institution in western Maryland, inmates threatened to attack two corrections officers.

One of the officers was warned; the other wasn’t. The one who wasn’t warned was stabbed “multiple times in the neck and head,” according to a news report, and ended up in the hospital.

It was against policy for the officer that was attacked not to be warned.

The scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center received renewed attention recently with the indictment of 14 more corrections officers who worked at the facility.

According to a story in the Nov. 22 edition of The Baltimore Sun, "As many as three-quarters of the approximately 650 officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center were involved in contraband smuggling, witnesses said in court documents, contradicting assertions by corrections department officials that the 'overwhelming majority' of staff members at the jail were clean."

Those “corrections department officials” spoke not only for themselves, but also for O’Malley. Rather than advise Rawlings-Blake on crime-fighting strategy, perhaps the governor should explain to Marylanders how nearly 500 of 650 corrections officers at the BCDC managed to be corrupted so easily.

And on his watch.

Gregory Kane, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.
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