Monday, September 23, 2013
Ignoring O'Malley on Crime
I knew O'Malley planned to attend September's Baltimore's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) meeting after he crashed their meeting in July. Both times he hoped to get headlines for himself about the city's escalating murder rate, and both times--at least at first--he failed.
The Baltimore Sun apparently didn't attend the July meeting, because its reporters had to read the minutes to find out what he said. That's how relevant the CJCC is to criminal justice.
But the Sun didn't bite after the September 11th meeting, either. Instead it led with a story about his promise to clear the backlog of gun registration background checks, a duty performed by O'Malley's state police. Good for the Sun, I thought. Focus on his accountability as governor. No need to post a blog.
But a week later the Sun gave in, belatedly trumpeting O'Malley's prescription for Baltimore's murder rate, which sounds a lot like his prescription when he became mayor: arrest, arrest, arrest. The story was nuanced, and strove for balance, but O'Malley got the headline he craved.
O'Malley, as I have written before, likes to take credit for any criminal justice advancements. His promise for 'zero tolerance' in Baltimore shot him onto the political fast track, electing him mayor. Now that he is an angling to be president, he is returning to his roots by congratulating himself on his crime record, while simultaneously and shrewdly distancing himself from the current city regime.
But let his record on criminal justice as mayor be clear: through several poor hires and micromanagement, he denuded the police department of experienced leadership, a blow from which it has yet to recover. He invited a major civil rights lawsuit and many private ones that cost the city dearly. And the most significant and sustained drop in murders came after he left the city, and after the arrest practices he instituted were abandoned.
And what did he do as governor? Well, he ordered the probation and parole department, which is under state authority, to focus resources on violent offenders. That wasn't an original idea with him, but still a good one. But what impact has it had? Has he had anyone--by which I mean an independent, professional person--study the results of the program for its effectiveness?
We do know that his management of the state correctional system has been atrocious, most conspicuously, allowing a gang leader to operate out of Baltimore city's jail while fathering multiple children with correctional officers. What accountability did he take for that? Zero. He merely threw the jail's security chief to the wolves, retaining the senior leadership that created the culture which allowed such blatant corruption. But he wants to lecture the city about crime.
I remember the first time I saw Martin O'Malley at a CJCC meeting, when he was a city councilman. Then-delegate Peter Franchot was there, doing what O'Malley was to do more ostentatiously later: grandstand at the CJCC to promote his career. O'Malley introduced himself as a councilman from Baltimore city "out of Montgomery County" (where Franchot was from and O'Malley grew up.) He never missed an opportunity to promote himself, even then.
Then O'Malley proceeded to announce one of his solutions to city criminal justice problems. The concept was fine, and progressive, but the mechanism was totally flawed and promised too much of a panacea. That's O'M's m.o.: take a little bit of knowledge and make himself dangerous.
He had the solutions for everything, except he didn't, and he wouldn't listen to those who knew more in his rush to push his political career. He bullied to get his way, and when he failed he still claimed victory through sheer chutzpah and lack of opposition. O'Malley's forays into criminal justice were always about getting himself to the next office. And nothing has changed now.
So when O'Malley speaks on crime, don't listen.