New Balto. gun-crime unit to use state, federal funds

Jessamy says city shortchanges office

January 19, 2002|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, claiming to be hamstrung by city officials who have shortchanged and bad-mouthed her office, announced yesterday that she is turning to state and federal funds to start a prosecution unit focusing on gun crimes in the city's most violent neighborhoods.

"I've been trying to get money for gun prosecutors for two years," Jessamy said at a downtown news conference. "We have not been funded by the city. ... I've pleaded and begged for money, and all I get is criticism. I've been working my fanny off to give the citizens everything they deserve, but I need to be funded adequately."

Jessamy, a frequent target of criticism by Mayor Martin O'Malley, is forming the new community gun prosecution unit with a three-year grant totaling $480,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice. Kicking in another $116,000 is the Maryland Cease Fire Council, a state-run, grant-giving board appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 2000.

The money will be used to pay four new prosecutors in the Eastern, Northwestern and Southern police districts. The prosecutors will be assigned to twice-weekly gun court dockets at the Wabash and Eastside district courts, where caseloads have increased 73 percent in the past year, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for Jessamy.

Tony White, a spokesman for the mayor, said, "What the city state's attorney is saying about being underfunded is absolutely not true.

"Her department has received the largest raise of any department over the past two years," White said.

A city budget report summary shows that the state's attorney's office received $21.6 million in the last fiscal year, an increase of $6.3 million from two years earlier. More than $4.8 million of the office's total budget came from state and federal sources.

O'Malley also sent a letter yesterday to state Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat who leads a Senate budget subcommittee, saying that Jessamy has been looking for excuses to explain "her unimpressive prosecutorial results."

The mayor used as an example Jessamy's claim this month that prosecutors have been forced to drop cases because of police officers' failure to show up in court, a circumstance that O'Malley said has "had a minimal negative impact."

"I urge your subcommittee to more carefully examine the performance measures and results that are coming out of the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office," O'Malley wrote to Currie, chairman of the Public Safety, Transportation and Environment Subcommittee. "This is critical to the vitality of our city."

Jessamy said the $16.8 million that her office receives from city coffers is on a par with the budget for city street lights and less than the funding allocated to the library system and public health departments. She said anti-crime initiatives such as the new community gun program that she announced yesterday are difficult for her to launch because of tight-fisted city budget officials.

"I've always been told that the city has a budget problem," Jessamy said, noting that city prosecutors' starting salaries of $34,000 are the lowest in the region. "I'm ready, able and willing to work with [the mayor]. But I have not been able to get funding."

She said the new gun program will help combat violent crime by assigning prosecutors to go after criminals not only in the courtroom but also in their neighborhoods.

Prosecutors in the program will be charged with monitoring neighborhoods where violence has spiked, and will closely monitor people convicted of gun offenses even after their cases have gone through the court system, Jessamy said.

Gun court was unveiled in May 2000 as a special afternoon docket designed to help streamline city gun cases. Last year, more than 1,200 cases were docketed, compared to 691 from May through December 2000.

In recent months, the court's caseload has gotten so heavy that the afternoon docket often has 12 cases assigned to a single prosecutor, court officials said.

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