Chief Is Unhappy

Johnson Is Displeased 2 Anti-crime Bills Failed

April 15, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,

At an early-morning meeting in Towson, just a few hours after the end of the 2009 General Assembly session, Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson was not happy.

Two bills that he had vigorously endorsed failed to become law. One would have made it easier to prosecute gang members, he said, and the other was aimed at scrap-metal dealers who traffic in stolen materials. "I'm disappointed," Johnson said after addressing a meeting Tuesday of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a panel that meets every couple of months. He said Baltimore County has about 800 gang members in about 30 loosely structured gangs that mainly engage in drug dealing, and it was crucial to have adequate legal tools to combat them.

Johnson said the proposed anti-gang legislation would have made it easier to prosecute gang activity by defining "with greater specificity" some of the identifying criteria for gang membership, such as insignia, flags, graffiti, style of dress, tattoos, symbols or hand signs. If it had become law, he said, the bill would have helped police officers legally target gang members, even aspiring ones.

"This bill would have enhanced prosecution," he said. "It would have given it more teeth."

Johnson, who said he plans to use federal stimulus money to boost the fight against gang activity and cybercrimes, said the proposed metal-thefts bill would have required scrap-metal dealers to record the names and addresses of people selling them metals such as bronze and copper, and to report those sales to police.

The bill was defeated by "a heavy lobbying effort on behalf of the scrap-metal dealers' industry," said Johnson, who estimated that since 2005 there has been a 600 percent increase in thefts of such metals in the county.

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