State's attorney's office to get more money

$1.6 million increase intended to alleviate backlog in city courts

May 13, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Caitlin Francke | Gerard Shields and Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Despite facing the leanest Baltimore budget in almost two decades, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will increase the amount of money to the state's attorney's office by $1.6 million with hope of clearing a logjam in the city's courts.

City Budget Director Edward J. Gallagher told the city's Board of Estimates yesterday that the 10 percent increase to the office of State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy should allow her to meet staffing needs.

Included in the increase is $350,000 to help Jessamy's office take over the Police Department function of charging suspects arrested for a crime.

The budget increase is $500,000 above the amount requested by Jessamy, according to the city's proposed 2000 budget.

Increasing Jessamy's $15.2 million annual budget gained more urgency two months ago after The Sun detailed the case of armed robbery and carjacking suspects Christopher Wills and Kevin Cox, who were freed in November after a judge ruled that prosecutors took too long to take them to trial.

Having prosecutors charge suspects as they are arrested has long been seen as a vital factor in helping other cities clear crowded jails and backlogged courts. By reviewing cases when they arrive, prosecutors can determine which are best to pursue, proponents contend.

Yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Page Croyder, who is in charge of reviewing arrests at the city jail, said a preliminary study shows one of every five arrests made by Baltimore police is not worth taking to court.

Prosecutors have been examining 10 percent of arrests -- about 1,200 -- since mid-March when calls for switching the charging function increased. Many arrests are for minor crimes such as disorderly conduct or loitering, Croyder said. Others lack sufficient evidence.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III welcomed the budget news as instrumental in the city's crime fight. Baltimore has had 300 murders annually for the past decade, making it the nation's fourth-deadliest city.

Bell, who is considering a run for mayor, and Northeast Baltimore Councilman Martin O'Malley have repeatedly called for the charging switch during the past two years.

"That's been an issue that this council has tried to weigh in on," Bell said of the charging move. "It will free up police officers who arrest a suspect and who are tied up for three hours or more to be out on the streets dealing with crime."

Bell, however, questioned the Schmoke administration's $2.9 million cut to the Parks and Recreation Department budget. During the past two years, 18 city recreation centers have been closed and $15 million cut from the budget. Much of the duty has been shifted to Police Athletic League centers.

On Tuesday, city mayoral candidate Carl Stokes said he supports a council bill introduced by Southeast Baltimore Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. that would place a $1-per-ticket charge on all sporting events in Camden Yards. The money would be used to help pay for city recreation services.

Bell indicated that Schmoke can expect a challenge to the recreation cuts in next week's budget hearings.

Pub Date: 5/13/99

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