If Republican Pat McDonough unseats Democratic Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. in November, McDonough says has a plan for everything from affordable housing to potable water to school violence: “Litigation, litigation, litigation.”

Speaking to roughly 50 constituents Tuesday evening during the first — and perhaps only — county executive candidate forum, organized by the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, the former state delegate blamed Olszewski’s administration for the police department’s persistent struggle to hire and retain officers and the rise of violence within county schools.

But McDonough doesn’t point out a problem without offering a solution, he told voters gathered at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School. He pledged to fire Police Chief Melissa Hyatt, an Olszewski appointee facing calls for her removal by rank-and-file members, immediately upon taking office if elected.

He would establish “special programs” to incentivize former officers who retired in other jurisdictions to join the county police department as the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 says the numbers of sworn officers dwindles. McDonough said there were 192 vacancies among the department’s sworn officers, citing the police union.

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And to address public safety in schools, McDonough said he would establish a plan he called the “Safe Kids 911 Act” to direct students who are victims of violent crime in schools to seek to press charges through police, not report to school administrators.

McDonough said he would file a class action lawsuit with parents of students in county schools against Olszewski, superintendent Darryl Williams and the school board for failing to abate violence in county schools, which suspended more than 800 students for violent offenses and having weapons during the first six months of the 2021-22 school year.

“We will file a complaint with the federal court that will move immediately to the Supreme Court,” he said.

Olszewski, a Dundalk native who is running for a second term, outlined several steps his administration has taken to address police concerns — which he noted are being felt by police departments nationwide.

He funded a $238 million police budget and committed tens of millions to upgrade aging police buildings, including a new training facility and $7 million Wilkins Precinct station in the southwestern suburbs. He’s speaking with officers about their concerns during precincts’ roll calls, he said.

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Olszewski has also funded a $10,000 hiring bonus to new police recruits and a $500 bonus for existing police staff who refer successful candidates. He said he intends to again fund raises for police officers during contract negotiations with the police union.

“We’re listening to our officers when they talk about [needed] equipment, take-home cars,” Olszewski — whose brother is a county police officer — said.

And Olszewski touted his administration’s “upstream investments” in education, recreational programs and workforce development; “Things that prevent crime from happening in the first place,” he said.

He stressed that community policing works, and said he funded a new position for a police community engagement coordinator to be a liaison to local neighborhood groups. And he’s kicked in funding to hire four new school resource officers who will float among the public schools.

Olszewski added: “It’s hard to profess you’re going to be a leader on law enforcement … when you had an opponent file criminal charges against you” — referencing a misdemeanor charge that McDonough stole the campaign sign of former Baltimore County executive candidate Darren Badillo, who lost the Republican primary.

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Badillo asked county prosecutors to throw out the charge in August; McDonough retorted that Badillo now worked for his campaign.

The opponents furnished their diametric approaches to bolstering public safety in Essex, where numbers of aggravated assaults, homicides, robberies and car thefts are among the highest in the county.

But they disagreed on how often crime is actually happening. Olszewski said violent crime was down 16% overall last year, even while recording the most homicides ever — 54 — for the second time in three years. That calculation by the police department factored in specific offenses, like rape, assault and verbal threats made against public officials.

According to statistics compiled by the police union, through the first six months of 2022 both assaults and thefts have increased over the same period last year. A Police Department spokeswoman could not produce the number of Baltimore County offenses this year, asking for a public records request to get that data. The Baltimore Banner filed a public records request on Sept. 16.

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“There are fewer murders, but the shootings are way up,” McDonough said. “Don’t tell me things are getting better — that’s a bunch of you-know-what.”

Baltimore Banner reporter Kristen Griffith contributed to this article.

taylor.deville@thebaltimorebanner.com