Making criminals pay More law enforcement aid: Baltimore looking at bail bonds fee similar to Prince George's.

February 01, 1997

IT IS NO relief to his parents, but the murder of 3-year-old James Smith III has not been in vain. Since the child was shot at a barber shop, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has opened his eyes to some good ideas that could reduce violent crime in the city.

Two weeks after the Jan. 2 shooting Mr. Schmoke announced he was for the first time moving money within the city budget to pay for more drug treatment slots. Much of the violent crime in Baltimore is linked to drug abuse. Last week, the mayor said he wants to follow Prince George's County's lead and get legislative approval for a bail bonds fee in Baltimore, with the money used for public safety.

Prince George's has collected a bail bonds fee since the early 1970s. It is set at 1 percent of the bail amount ($10 for every $1,000) and the revenue is put into the county's general fund. Lelia Newman, Prince George's bail bond commissioner, said the county collects from $18,000 to $25,000 a month from the bail bonds companies. The county uses court records to determine the fee total each company should pay.

Mayor Schmoke would improve that system by putting all bail bonds fees collected in Baltimore into a public safety trust fund. Based on the greater volume of criminal suspects who post bond in the city, he is predicting as much as $500,000 in fees could be generated the first year and up to $1 million in subsequent years.

Mr. Schmoke said that extra money would be used to consolidate and improve the state's attorney's office. He also wants a better computer tracking system for the police department. New York officials have in part credited that type of technology, which allows them to keep track of criminal activity and criminals, for that city's dramatic reduction in crime.

In addition to these initiatives, Mr. Schmoke said Gov. Parris N. Glendening has agreed to create a public safety alliance that could see state juvenile justice officials, parole and police officers helping fight violent crime in Baltimore "hot spots." Again, this is something they are already doing in Prince George's County. Jurisdictional jealousy in the past may have prevented such cooperation in Baltimore. But Mr. Schmoke says, "That won't ever happen again."

It would be wrong to say the mayor wasn't addressing the violent crime problem in Baltimore before little James Smith III was killed. But he certainly has been more focused about what needs to be done since that tragedy.

Pub Date: 2/01/97

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