O'Malley opposes Senate bill to limit city police authority on liquor raids

Sponsor Conway says it would not curtail powers

General Assembly

March 25, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley wants the Maryland Senate to reject legislation that would restrict the authority of city police to conduct raids of liquor stores and bars, placing him at odds with a city senator with whom he has clashed in the past.

O'Malley said yesterday that a bill sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore would hamper the crime-fighting efforts of police, and should be killed.

"We've been making some really important strides in reducing violent crimes," O'Malley said in an interview. "It would be a real big mistake to pass a law prohibiting the Police Department from enforcing the law."

Conway says her bill is needed because a city social-club task force established last year has been too aggressive in targeting bars and liquor stores, sometimes infringing on the civil rights of owners. The task force has included police and fire, health, liquor and building inspectors.

The senator also has said that the policy strategy is usurping the authority of the city liquor board. Conway's husband, Vernon "Tim" Conway, is a deputy chief liquor inspector with the board, earning $41,500 yearly, and the senator has received sizable donations from the liquor industry.

The bill received preliminary approval this week and was scheduled for a final Senate vote yesterday. After an article about the legislation appeared yesterday in The Sun, Conway asked that a vote be delayed until tomorrow.

She asked her colleagues to review documents from the state attorney general describing how the bill would not curtail police powers.

Conway's proposal seemed to be heading for easy passage because of a concept referred to in Annapolis as local courtesy. Lawmakers typically defer to the wishes of their colleagues from a particular jurisdiction on matters affecting only that locality. Conway's bill is sponsored by four of six Baltimore senators.

O'Malley and Conway have had a delicate relationship. Although Conway was the first black, elected official to endorse O'Malley during his first run for mayor, the two have grown apart, and she considered running against him last year.

Some neighborhood activists say Conway's inspection bill would harm their quality of life.

"I think a lot of communities are dealing with the trash, the intoxication, the fights -- everything that stems from a bad bar," said Cynthia Gaver, co-founder of Dundalk Avenue Area Residents Together, or DAART.

"We need all the help we can get," Gaver said. "I don't want to see the police restrained in any way. I don't know if anyone was talking to the communities."

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