Ten months after he took office on campaign pledges that included restarting prosecutions for quality-of-life crimes, Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates has the highest approval rating of any citywide leader, according to a new survey from the Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner.

Fifty-seven percent of those polled said they approved or strongly approved of Bates, 55, a Democrat who lives in Locust Point.

That’s a higher approval rating than Mayor Brandon Scott (37%), City Council President Nick Mosby (26%), Police Commissioner Richard Worley (34%) and Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises (26%). Meanwhile, 21% of respondents indicated they either disapproved or strongly disapproved of Bates.

Nine out of 10 people surveyed said crime was a “major issue” in the city, far and away higher than any other topic, including housing, public transportation and local taxes

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The Goucher College Poll conducted the survey of 711 registered voters in Baltimore by cellphone and landline from Sept. 19 to Sept. 23. The poll has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

Bates was sworn in on Jan. 3 as the 26th Baltimore state’s attorney after running unopposed on Election Day. He defeated the two-term incumbent, Marilyn Mosby, and Thiru Vignarajah, a former Maryland deputy attorney general, in the Democratic primary in 2022.

On his first day in office, Bates rescinded a policy from his predecessor against prosecuting low-level, nonviolent offenses, including disorderly conduct, trespassing and drug possession. “Effective right now, this moment and second, I recall that policy,” he said to applause at the Baltimore War Memorial.

He partnered to create a court docket aimed at addressing citations for quality-of-life crimes. People eligible are offered resources and the opportunity to perform community service for a first or second offense instead of facing prosecution.

“Through speaking with thousands of city residents, the overreaching message that I have heard continuously, and that I continue to hear, is their frustration with the previous decisions to no longer hold individuals accountable for misdemeanor crimes which they feel adversely affected their quality of life,” Bates testified on Aug. 30 in Baltimore City Council’s Public Safety and Government Operations Committee.

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Tia Harris said she’s noticed fewer people openly engaging in drug activity in her neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore since Bates has taken office.

Harris, 48, an information technology manager, said she feels that there is no longer a belief that people can get away with those crimes.

She said she voted for Bates and heard him speak on several occasions. Harris said she supports his vision of giving people the opportunity to change while also holding them accountable if they repeatedly engage in the same behavior.

“Citizens should not feel like the only way for them to be safe is in their homes,” Harris said. “I think that the different way Ivan is looking at it — for me as a voter, I cannot speak for anyone else — it gives me confidence, it gives me ease that someone is actually on the same page.”

Crime is “just the biggest thing on Baltimoreans’ minds,” said Mileah Kromer, an associate professor of political science and director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College, who oversaw the survey.

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“And right now,” Kromer said, “it looks to me that Ivan Bates seems to be somebody that there’s at least a little bit of faith from the public.”

Kromer noted that 58% of respondents — including 50% of white voters, 62% of Black voters and 56% of voters from all other races — supported increasing the rate of prosecution for nonviolent crimes. That’s about the same as Bates’ approval rating.

“That’s his message,” she said. “It’s a message that’s resonating.”

Bates, she said, is also in a honeymoon period during which people tend to give new elected officials the benefit of the doubt. He was not voted in at the same time as the mayor and City Council president, who are up for reelection next year.

Besides resuming the prosecution of low-level, nonviolent offenses, Bates has stated that his administration will aggressively prosecute illegal firearms possession and championed a law that increased the maximum sentence for wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun without a permit for those 21 and older from three years to five years in prison.

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Seventy-nine percent of respondents supported harsher sentences for violent offenders, and 81% backed stricter gun control laws and related punishments. Black voters favored those policies by more than 4 to 1, according to the poll.

People who were older tended to have a more favorable view of Bates. For instance, 49% of those 18 to 34 supported him, compared to 70% of people who were 55 and older. He has made protecting older people a priority of his administration and last week announced the creation of the Older and Disabled Persons Unit, which will provide services related to neglect, abuse and financial exploitation.

In an interview, Bates said he believes that the results of the poll reflect that voters are optimistic about the direction of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office.

Bates noted that he ran on three key policies: rebuilding the infrastructure of the office, holding people accountable for illegal guns and resuming prosecution of quality-of-life crimes. His message, he said, has been to be “smart on crime.”

He credited the work of his team and stated that the office has been able to articulate the plan to the community.

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“I don’t really view it about me, per se,” Bates said. “I just think it’s more about we than about me.”

With 90% of respondents indicating that crime is a “major issue” in Baltimore, Bates said he feels that there’s “a lot more work to do.” People, he said, want change and are looking to hold elected officials accountable if they do not deliver.

Several voters who approve of Bates said they wanted a fresh start and change in leadership in the state’s attorney’s office.

Michael Stokes, 51, said he was “not a real big fan” of Bates’ predecessor, Marilyn Mosby, and likes Bates’ different approach to criminal justice.

Stokes said he believed that Mosby tended to grandstand while being unsuccessful at securing convictions. He brought up the failed prosecutions of six Baltimore Police officers who were charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who died in a hospital in 2015 from injuries suffered in police custody one week earlier.

“If you’ve got a job, do your job,” said Stokes, a facilities coordinator and manager who lives in Guilford. “Don’t talk about your job, and not be able to do it.”

He said he was glad that Bates rescinded the policy of not prosecuting low-level, nonviolent offenses. Quality-of-life crimes, he said, “grow like weeds.”

“I feel like Ivan Bates is a fresh start,” said Nicole Evanshaw, 54, a restaurant owner who lives in Waltherson. “He seems, to me, to be sincere in trying to improve the state and the office that he holds.”

At the same time, Evanshaw said, she opposed increasing prosecutions for minor offenses. That’s because she said Black people are disproportionately punished in the criminal justice system.

Harris, the IT manager who lives in Southwest Baltimore, said she was born and raised here and loves the city. She said she feels that there needs to be a complete change in leadership.

“I’m hopeful for the city. I want to see the city to do well. And I look forward to what the city has to offer,” Harris said. “I just hope that the changes come soon.”


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