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November 29, 2011

Cummings praises Bernstein at witness protection forum

Speaking at a forum on witness intimidation, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings offered praise of new Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein and urged law enforcement leaders to be vigilant in protecting witnesses and victims of crime.

Cummings praised Bernstein for hosting the forum, at the University of Baltimore law school, and said: "You have made a difference already ... The confidence of our citizens has skyrocketed."

One year ago this month, Cummings was among a core group of supporters of former State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy who hung around into the early morning hours following Election Day anxiously awaiting the results. Cummings had joined others in criticizing Bernstein's plan for crime-fighting as one-sided.

But Bernstein's decision to hold a witness intimidation forum addressed one of law enforcement's most pressing issues - and one that is close to Cummings, who has pushed a bill in the Senate that would give millions to states for witness protection. 

Cummings recalled the 2002 firebombings of the Dawson family, as well as the Stop Snitching video that circulated underground, and said he has tried to be a role model for African Americans by advocating the importance of cooperating with law enforcement. "We've got to get people to understand that they have a duty to testify and cooperate. But they've got to know they'll be protected," Cummings said.

Cummings also referenced the murder this summer of his nephew in Norfolk, Va., a case that remains unsolved. "Our family is convinced it has to do with witness intimidation," he said. 

During a brief panel discussion, before the rest of the event was closed to the media, authorities discussed ways to make victims and witnesses safe and comfortable. Angela Alsobrooks, the recently elected state's attorney for Prince George's County, said many people become untrustworthy not when they are victimized or witness a crime, but through prior interactions with law enforcement that involve relatives.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, noting cases where information about victims and witnesses has been leaked onto the streets, said authorities need to continue to "push the envelope" with judges to keep crucial information withheld. Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III also noted increased efforts to intercept jail and prison communications.

"The people retaliating are not the defendants themselves - it's other gang members, their family members," Bealefeld said. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 4:41 PM | | Comments (1)


I am happy for the people of Baltimore that there has been a turnaround in citizens' trust in law enforcement. My late husband worked tirelessly to protect this city, sometimes against overwhelming adversity. He would be proud to see this change. Congratulations to State's Attorney Bernstein for his efforts in helping make Baltimore a safer city.

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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