Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In My Own Words

I didn't intend to end my seven month blogging sabbatical with a blog about Gregg Bernstein, Baltimore's state's attorney.  But I do want to state in my own words what I tried to communicate to a Sun reporter who called me for insight into Bernstein's first year on the job.

The Sun, at the end of its story on Bernstein, states that I "raised concerns that he's starting fresh with too many things and people, rather than tapping those 'with deep experience from within the system' for guidance. This summary could allow a number of interpretations, the worst of which would be that I want him to slow down.

Gregg Bernstein has a huge job to do.  He not only has to change the way his own office functions, he has to face the entrenched bureaucracies and attitudes of other agencies within the criminal justice system that impact his effectiveness.  He has approached these challenges with energy and fresh approaches.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about his first year was its deafening silence.  The silence created by the absence of the old public bickering between police and prosecutors.  Oh,someone made an attempt to stoke the old fires when they leaked a police department memo criticizing the prosecutor's homicide division.

But Bernstein ran over to Police Headquarters--equalizing with one visit the trips his predecessor made in  more than a decade--and we heard no more.  They resolved it, or agreed to disagree.

Occasionally I felt there might be a little too much silence, a little too much "no comment" on issues of legitimate concern to the public.  Bernstein promised transparency.  But he's beginning to learn how to respond.  And he was better to err on the side of caution than engage in the kind of free-handed commentary on cases that once got Maryland's attorney general Doug Gansler in ethical trouble when he was Montgomery County State's Attorney.
What I attempted to communicate to the Sun was that Bernstein could have gotten off to a faster start.   It had nothing to do with "too many things and people" (the Sun's words.)  My concern was that he did not bring in anybody with a deep understanding of Baltimore's local criminal justice system.  I mentioned one position  to the Sun, and in fact I feel there were two key jobs that should have been filled with someone who knew the system cold.  Those two positions alone could have cut the learning curve in half.   

Bernstein has brought in qualified persons, educated persons, smart persons.  They will all learn.  It's just that it will take longer. You can fix something faster when you already know how it's put together.

Perhaps after suffering as long as I did in a stagnant office that centered more around public perception than actual results I am too impatient for real change.  I don't apologize for that.  It's what motivates me to write.  

But I also worry that unless the public feels real change sooner rather than later, we could see another state's attorney three years from now.  Someone is bound to challenge Bernstein after his narrow victory in a low-turnout election.  

And the city doesn't need such quick turnover.  Having four different police commissioners in the O'Malley mayoral years wrecked the Police Department.  We need stability, the kind that Rod Rosenstein has provided over at the U.S. Attorney's Office.  He has had time to conceive a plan, develop it, and achieve significant results with violent criminals over the past six and a half years. 

We had plenty of stability at the top of the prosecutor's office before Bernstein, but insufficient competence.  Now we've got competence.  Add stability, and we achieve long term success.

The faster, the better.  

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