In her second "State of the City" address, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will propose the creation of a 10-year financial plan for Baltimore, discuss initiatives for recovering drug addicts, and propose restructuring the Baltimore Development Corp., among other initiatives. The Sun's City Hall reporter Julie Scharper will have a full report, but here's text of the speech that focuses specifically on law enforcement and public safety:
"As our schools are making great progress, Baltimore is becoming a safer city to raise a family. In 2010, homicides reached their lowest level since 1985, when William Donald Schaefer was Mayor. Gun homicide is down 13%, juvenile homicides and shootings are down 35%, and overall gun crime is down 16%, that's 498 fewer victims of gun crime than in 2009.
I want to thank all the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department for their continued focus on illegal guns and the violent criminals who use them. In 2010, our police officers took over 2300 illegal guns off the streets.
The sad truth is that our Police Department is achieving these record results with one hand tied behind their back because of inadequate state penalties for gun criminals. Our current laws are weak and support a culture that tolerates illegal, loaded gun possession.
Today, we are joined by three heroes whose story crystallizes the need for tougher state penalties for gun offenders.
It was just after 1:00 am on a cold November night when Officer Todd Strohman, a one-year veteran, confronted a man he believed to be carrying a gun in the heart of downtown Baltimore. Then, without warning, the suspect produced an illegal, loaded gun and shot Officer Strohman in the chest. Officer Strohman showed remarkable bravery by directly confronting an armed suspect.
Today, I would also like to recognize Lieutenant Scott Mezan of our SWAT team who responded quickly, administered first-aid, and drove Officer Strohman to Shock Trauma as well as Officer Kurt Yourkovic of our Community Stabilization Unit-both of your actions helped save Officer Strohman's life.
This incident should never have happened. The armed suspect, Franklin Gross, was a violent, repeat offender who should have been in jail. But because our laws and criminal justice system show too much tolerance for gun crimes, he wasn't in jail; he was back out on the streets, committing gun crimes over and over again.
Franklin Gross has been arrested 10 times - five of those arrests involved illegal guns. He was charged for the first time with using a handgun in a violent crime, and like so many other first time gun offenders, he served ONLY two months in jail. After committing a number of other crimes, Franklin Gross was arrested in 2005 for an armed robbery with a gun and another gun crime that he committed in 2004. He was sentenced to 12 years, but six were suspended. On November 10th, 2010 he got out of jail, and just 17 days later, on Thanksgiving weekend, he went downtown with another illegal gun and shot Officer Strohman in the chest.
This is not justice. It simply should not be allowed to happen. This story is the story about why Maryland legislators must act now to enact tougher penalties for illegal gun possession. Mark my words, and remember them - we will not back down until the legislature joins us in this fight against criminals and their illegal guns. In no uncertain terms, this fight is a matter of life and death.
My administration is sponsoring two state bills aimed at cracking down on gun offenders who, under current laws, are serving little jail time. Our message is simple - we will not tolerate illegal guns. Under these bills, if you are carrying an illegal, loaded gun, you will not receive a slap on the wrist--you will go to prison. Under current law, even though 44 percent of homicide suspects have prior gun arrests, the average misdemeanor gun offender is back out on the street after spending only four months in jail.
Enough is enough. I am urging everyone--business leaders, community leaders, and everyday citizens who care about the future of Baltimore--to join me in Annapolis for this cause. We can stop the revolving door of justice, continue to reduce gun violence in Maryland and keep our police officers safe when they patrol our neighborhoods.
We will continue our fight in Annapolis, and we will continue to make investments in public safety our top priority.
• While cities like Newark and Camden endure gut-wrenching layoffs of public safety personnel, this coming fiscal year we will again maintain every single police officer position in the budget.
• We will continue to implement our aggressive plan to hire hundreds of new police officers in 2011.
• We will continue to use technology as a force multiplier by working with federal, state, and community partners to expand our crime camera network.
• We will use our public safety resources strategically to target violent criminals and continue to reduce crime.
• We will also work to improve and strengthen criminal investigations.
This summer, public service journalism shined a light on a dark and shameful statistic: In the last decade, the Baltimore Police Department recorded one of the highest percentages in the country of rape cases deemed "unfounded."
Commissioner Bealefeld and I refused to respond to this painful revelation by pointing fingers and blaming previous administrations. Instead, we took responsibility and took action. Today, we are joined by three of our partners in this effort. Debra Holbrook, from Mercy Hospital's SAFE Nurse program, Rosalynn Branson, the Executive Director of TurnAround, Inc., a Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center, and Deputy Major Clifton McWhite, head of BPD's Special Investigations Section.
They are here today as members of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) led by my Office on Criminal Justice. This team, led a transparent process to conduct a full audit of sexual assault complaints and a review of police training and investigative practices.
This unprecedented review led to numerous reforms that have forever changed and improved the way sexual assault cases are investigated in Baltimore, ensuring that future victims of sexual assault will have their complaints investigated fully and are treated with dignity and respect.
But it's not enough to simply acknowledge mistakes of the past and reform our own practices; we have an obligation and a duty to share what we have learned with other Cities. The SART team will continue its work and will create a new national model for investigating these crimes and responding to victims of sexual assault.
Please join me in thanking Ms. Holbrook, Ms. Branson, and the entire SART team for their dedication to this issue and their exceptional public service to the citizens of Baltimore.
Violence against women will receive a renewed focus from my administration. Last year, there were over 20,000 domestic related police calls for service in Baltimore. In order to reduce domestic violence, we have partnered with House of Ruth Maryland on two important initiatives.
One is to create Maryland's first supervised visitation center for families with histories of domestic violence and sexual assault. This center will be a safe place where families can conduct court-ordered supervised visitation.
We have also built a strong partnership with House of Ruth to spot high risk domestic violence situations and swiftly offer shelter, advocacy, and other services to victims. In its first year, House of Ruth advocates have screened over 2000 domestic violence cases and made contact with over 1000 victims. 300 victims received services from House of Ruth because of this new partnership.
Next week, I will sign legislation to increase funding for domestic violence shelters in Baltimore.
I would like thank the entire City Council for moving this bill forward.
From our work with House of Ruth, we have learned that domestic violence leads to domestic homicide and community violence. Last year, 42% of suspects charged with murder had a history of engaging in domestic violence. Even more troubling, 25% of last year's murder suspects had histories that included both domestic violence and gun crimes. There is a real connection between domestic violence and gun crime that we need to address.
We must do more to identify these violent offenders who terrorize their families and their neighbors. We must get them off the streets before they kill a loved one or community member. Therefore, I plan to launch DVStat. DVStat will bring together police, prosecutors, victim service organizations, probation officers, and others to create a stronger system-wide response to repeat abusers.
Our joint goal will be to reduce violence in the home and in the community.