In his first budget hearing, Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates on Monday answered questions from council members about his initiative to launch a court docket aimed at addressing citations for low-level, nonviolent offenses.

Bates unveiled his plan last week to resume enforcement of quality-of-life crimes including aggressive panhandling, disorderly conduct and drug possession. He made rescinding a policy from his predecessor, Marilyn Mosby, not to prosecute these types of offenses a centerpiece of his campaign.

People who are eligible for the initiative will be offered social services and given the opportunity to do community service for a first or second citation instead of facing prosecution. If they complete that community service before their trial date, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office will drop the case. Baltimore Police will begin issuing citations on June 12.

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During the almost two-hour hearing in the Baltimore City Council Ways and Means Committee, Bates, a Democrat, responded to several questions about the court docket for citations and used the occasion to highlight his achievements so far in office.

“Across our great city, residents have asked for a return to accountability in Baltimore,” Bates said. “This initiative is the first step to getting there.”

Council President Nick Mosby said in the past citations have been issued disproportionately to Black city residents, particularly those living in West Baltimore.

“Are you concerned at all about the disparate enforcement, like we’ve seen in the past, particularly as it relates to citations?” said Mosby, who is married to the former state’s attorney. “And, if so, what is your office going to do to ensure that it’s enforced fairly and equally throughout the city?”

As a Black man who works in the criminal justice system, Bates said, he will always be concerned about unequal enforcement.

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Bates said his office will analyze data as part of the initiative. He said that includes looking at where and to whom police are issuing citations.

“Our focus is, ‘We need to do something.’ Is it going to be perfect? No, it’s never going to be perfect in the very beginning,” he said. “We’re going to look at it, we’re going to tweak it, we’re going to try to understand what we can do.”

Councilman Robert Stokes Sr. inquired whether people who are on probation or parole can be sent back to prison if police cite them with an offense such as loitering or drinking in public.

Though Bates said almost anything can be a violation of supervision, “our whole focus would be no.”

Meanwhile, Councilman Kristerfer Burnett said while he understood the public safety rationale for enforcing certain quality-of-life crimes, he questioned why the list of two dozen offenses included hacking, or running an unlicensed cab.

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For instance, Burnett said he knows seniors in his district who work at a grocery store and help take customers home.

“I get it: the law is the law,” Burnett said. “But I don’t know how that makes the city safer.”

Bates said he did not necessarily agree, either. But he said he does not make the law.

Earlier in the hearing, Bates highlighted his accomplishments, which include:

Bates said he’s hired 59 new employees, which includes 40 assistant state’s attorneys.

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Right now, Bates said, there are 161 assistant state’s attorneys and 25 vacancies. He said he believes that the right number of prosecutors for his office, which handles about 40,000 cases per year, is 220.

Since he’s taken office, 43 people have left, Bates said.

He said he has also asked Gov. Wes Moore for $3.5 million to hire additional staff to review police body-camera video, which would reduce the workload of prosecutors in the office. Bates said that is the No. 1 complaint that he receives from his assistant state’s attorneys.

The recommended budget for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office for the budget year beginning July 1 is $58.24 million. That’s a more than 11% increase from the current budget.

If it is approved, the number of budgeted positions would essentially remain flat at 393.

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By law, the City Council must approve a balanced budget by June 26.

dylan.segelbaum@thebaltimorebanner.com

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