Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to de-fund the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council — a nearly two-decade-old body that brings together all the top players in Baltimore law enforcement — took many who have been involved off guard, and it’s led to some grumbling that he is grandstanding. But it hasn’t prompted many people to make a spirited defense of the CJCC. Mr. Hogan’s implication that the people who have spent years trying to fight violent crime in Baltimore lack a sense of urgency may be unhelpful, but his decision to take $219,000 from the CJCC and give it instead to Mayor Catherine Pugh probably won’t make much difference.
Echoing criticism from Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, Mr. Hogan has argued that city judges are partly to blame for the current epidemic of violence because they aren’t giving tough sentences to dangerous, repeat offenders. In August, Mr. Hogan summoned the members of the CJCC to a meeting to discuss ways to combat Baltimore’s violent crime, but the judges refused to attend, citing rules designed to preserve their independence from public and political pressure. Mr. Hogan wasn’t happy about that, and he unleashed a fusillade of criticism.
At the next meeting of the CJCC, Mr. Hogan’s representative, V. Glenn Fulston Jr., the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, made a motion that the body dedicate itself to devising a strategy to fight violent crime — evidently intending that it do so right then and there. Many of the elected officials who sit on the body were not present when Mr. Fulston pressed for a vote on his motion, and the suggestion that the CJCC table the matter until the October meeting so they could weigh in was, evidently, unacceptable to the Hogan administration. “The proposal to postpone further action on violent crime until October undermines the inherent urgency of the CJCC’s role in developing solutions to this pressing issue,” Mr. Fulston wrote in a letter informing CJCC Chairman Judge Charles Peters of the governor’s decision. “As I stated in response to this inexplicable delay, Marylanders’ lives are at stake, and the CJCC has an institutional and moral obligation to take action immediately.”
We certainly agree that fighting violent crime in Baltimore is a task that should be taken up with urgency. But the CJCC is probably not the likeliest entity to take the lead on the issue. It is chaired by a member of the judiciary, not a member of the executive or legislative branches, and consequently it is not designed to tackle questions of policy. It is a diverse body, including representatives of the public defender’s office and the defense bar, making it is ill suited for developing a consensus on something like a violence
That’s not to say it was useless. It has at various times played an important role in improving the operations of the criminal justice system, and it has helped work through potentially vexing procedural matters, like dealing with the implications of the DeWolve v. Richmond case in which the Court of Appeals determined that defendants had a right to counsel even in their initial appearance before a court commissioner. Participants also say the various sub-committees did important work in making sure the interactions of the various agencies represented on the CJCC went smoothly. Can that be accomplished without funding for an executive director and other expenses? We’re about to find out.
But what nobody is really quibbling with is the notion that if the governor thinks sending $219,000 to Mayor Pugh’s Office of Criminal Justice is a better use for the money than giving it to the CJCC, it’s his prerogative to do so. Although it is not a huge sum of money in terms of the city’s fight against crime, we suppose it’s a good omen for future cooperation and support that Mr. Hogan assumes Ms. Pugh will make effective use of the funds.
But if the actual policy of transferring the money from the CJCC to the Pugh administration is benign, the political fog surrounding may not be. Some recent analyses of court records have raised questions about the assumption that judges are responsible for bad guys returning to the streets too soon, instead finding plea deals between prosecutors and defendants to be driving most of the sentences the governor and police commissioner have criticized. Getting definitive answers about that question before we start making policy to address it is much more important than whether the governor funds the CJCC.