Homicide reduction pledged by summer

O'Malley gaining allies in campaign to reform city courts

February 18, 2000|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley, known for his impatience, said yesterday that Baltimoreans will have to wait until summer before they see homicides decline because the Police Department is developing its crime-fighting strategy.

"The change is coming. Change is coming as quickly as we can bring it about," O'Malley said during his weekly news conference. "I think we're going to see homicides continue on a high pace for the next few months."

The mayor's remarks came a day after the city's latest fatal shooting, which left a 25-year-old man dead in West Baltimore and increased the number of homicides for the year to 36. Of the 308 homicides last year, 35 had occurred by this point.

O'Malley has made reducing homicides and drug violence a top priority. Only a few weeks ago, he chided police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel for moving too slowly on the mayor's commitment to clean up 10 drug-infested neighborhoods.

But O'Malley's impatience with the state judiciary appeared to be paying off yesterday. At a meeting in Annapolis with state legislators, the chief of the District Court said she wasn't opposed to providing a full-time judge five days a week at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center, a top legislator said.

O'Malley said that a full-time judge in the lockup could help eliminate a backlog of misdemeanor cases that clogs the court system.

That backlog, the mayor says, contributes to wasted police time and an overcrowded court system that has trouble prosecuting violent offenders -- some of whom end up back on the street because prosecutors failed to try them in time.

Last week O'Malley blamed the state's judges for running a dysfunctional court system and urged state lawmakers to withhold almost $9 million in state funding for the city courts until the judiciary cooperates more on reform efforts.

The mayor again lashed out at the state's judiciary during his weekly news conference. And, in a separate news conference, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger backed O'Malley's call for reform of the city courts.

"There is a crisis right now in Baltimore that is affecting the entire region. We must get our courts to work together as a team to make a difference," Ruppersberger said. Referring to tales of the "wild West," he said, "That's like Alice in Wonderland compared to what's going on right now in Baltimore City."

O'Malley's criticism yesterday did not end with the state courts. He also criticized federal judges for failing to move more quickly on gun violence cases. He said such issues as heavy caseloads are no excuse for failing to bring violent criminals to justice.

"I offer Bill Clinton the money to hire another federal judge," O'Malley said. "The judges can moan and groan all they want to. I'll pay for the federal judge."

His comments drew immediate criticism from the chief of the U.S. District Court in Maryland.

"I heard the mayor's comments," said U.S. District Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz. "They are unfortunate and inappropriate."

In Annapolis, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and a group of legislators from the appropriations and judiciary committees met privately with Baltimore District Chief Judge Martha F. Rasin to discuss possible solutions to the case backlog.

"We thought there was some resistance on her part to a five-day District Court judge," Rawlings said. But, he said, "she was not opposed."

Rasin did not return repeated telephone calls yesterday.

O'Malley has asked for a judge in the lockup seven days a week with a 24-hour team of prosecutors to handle bail reviews and dispose of misdemeanor cases. A District Court judge and a Circuit Court judge hold court at central booking two days a week.

Though O'Malley wants a judge in central booking seven days a week, he said he's glad progress had been made in talks with the judiciary.

"It think it's a step in the right direction," O'Malley said of a judge at Central Booking five days a week. "I think it could have a big impact."

Sun staff writers David Nitkin and William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

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